The Seed That Grows.
The gentle light reflected softly from the pearl polish that adorned each toe. Beverly Crusher, CMO of the Starship Enterprise stretched languidly, her attention focussed upon her toes. Tilting her head slightly, she considered a change of colour. Green? Red perhaps? She sighed expansively and splayed her toes allowing her feet to sag sideways.
"What does it matter?…I'm the only one who sees them."
She lifted her feet from the low table and placed them neatly on the carpeted floor. The jade satin nightie she wore slipped coolly over her skin and she caressed the material, her mind imagining someone else's hands. Closing her eyes, she thought about her day…and the unsettling incident that occurred at its end.

 

 

 

"So what you're telling me is that we can't make it to the Exeter in time to transfer the samples."
Commander Will Riker, second in command nodded and grimaced.
"Uh huh. Captain Picard spoke to Captain Harding and did everything he could to urge him to shave off some time, but Harding is adamant that they can't leave Kemming III in time to meet us."
Beverly scowled and shook her head.
"But dammit Will, those samples will deteriorate until they're utterly useless! Why the hell did we bother to collect them if we can't get them back to Starbase 75 in time for the study?"
The big bearded man held up his hands and sighed.
"Hey I agree with you, but the Captain couldn't swing it. Put them in stasis and we'll hand them over as soon as we can."
Hands firmly placed on her hips, the Doctor squeezed her eyes shut.
"You realise, of course, that stasis won't prevent the eventual corruption of the tissue? That by withholding them we will effectively destroy them?"
Will sighed and nodded.
"The Captain sends his regrets, but that's how we have to play this. We have to do a sweep of the Neutral Zone. Until we meet with another ship that can take the samples…well I'm sorry Beverly we have no choice."
Her lips compressed into a thin line, the Doctor nodded curtly.
"Ok Will. I can see we're cornered. I'll do my best to preserve something of what we've collected…maybe we can get some back to the study in time."
Will grinned at his friend and was about to leave when the red head caught his elbow.
"By the way Will…you and the Captain are the only people yet to have their annual physical. Now Jean-Luc I know will be recalcitrant, but you…you usually show up on time. What's going on?"
The Commander flushed and shrugged his shoulders.
"Ah…I've been a bit busy."
"Well unbusy yourself and report for you exam…today!"
"Aye Sir!"
Chuckling, Beverly slapped his shoulder and sent him on his way. As it was still early in the day, she left her office and sought out her head nurse.
"Alyssa, when you're finished recalibrating that monitor I want you to help me do an inventory of the analgesics. I think we'd better increase the supply…and we should make available more hyposprays too."
Alyssa Ogawa frowned, her expressive dark eyes showing her concern.
"Are we expecting battle?"
Beverly smiled encouragingly and shook her head.
"No, but we will be patrolling the Neutral Zone and I happen to subscribe to the notion that it's better to be prepared."
Sighing with relief, the nurse nodded and went to retrieve a PADD. Beverly entered her office, seated herself behind her desk and took a steadying breath.
"Crusher to Picard."
"Picard here."
His voice was clipped and curt.
"Captain I know you're busy, but could you spare me a few minutes?"
There was a momentary silence before he replied.
"Make it quick Doctor."
Her hands fisted on her desk, Beverly plunged ahead.
"I'll come right up. Crusher out."
As the Doctor swiftly left Sickbay she called over her shoulder,
"I'll be back soon Alyssa. You start and I'll help when I get back."
The reply was lost as the determined medico stepped smartly through the corridors of the great ship. The turbolift deposited her on the Bridge and she cast a smile at Will as she pointed to the Ready Room door in query. He nodded his reply and she pressed the annunciator, knowing she would be summoned by his call.
"Come."
The doors sighed open and she paused at the threshold noting how tired her friend looked.
"Doctor Crusher come in…what can I do for you?"
Beverly stood before his desk, her eyes roving over the PADDS strewn across the surface.
"When was the last time you slept?"
Jean-Luc Picard, Captain of the ship didn't lift his eyes from the computer screen.
"Doctor I'm rather pressed for time. What do you want?"
Biting back an acerbic reply, Beverly placed her hands on the desktop and leaned forward.
"Jean-Luc…"
With an irritated gesture, the Captain paused his work and glared up at his visitor.
"Doctor?"
Adopting a more formal stance, Beverly stood at attention and looked straight ahead.
"Captain I requested your presence a month ago for your annual physical exam. You haven't come in yet and I wish to remind you that standing orders require that…"
"I know what the orders require Doctor. It is not convenient at this time. Perhaps when things are less…"
Beverly abandoned her posture and leaned over the desk.
"Jean-Luc you haven't eaten or slept properly for days. This current alert could go on indefinitely! I want…"
His sudden standing took her unawares.
"Doctor…Beverly look I know I've been somewhat harried lately, but I really can't spare the time to come down to Sickbay…at least not in the foreseeable future. However I can assure you that I will…"
Beverly held up her hands and stopped him.
"Ok, I can understand that. Tell you what, you give me your word that you'll go to your quarters tonight…that you'll have a decent meal and a proper sleep in your own bed…and I'll stop nagging you about the physical. Deal?"
She worried briefly as his dark hazel eyes glittered dangerously, his face a mask of stone. When his shoulders relaxed almost imperceptibly, she knew he'd agree.
He nodded once and muttered,
"Agreed."
She sighed happily and dropped the other shoe.
"Good. I'll meet you in your quarters at 20.00 hours."
Before he could protest she turned and left, he was still standing when the doors closed, a bemused expression gracing his handsome features.

 

 

 

 

The rest of Beverly's day passed uneventfully. Will finally appeared for his exam, then routine tasks ate up the time, her end of shift delayed by half an hour when a late patient came in with a dislocated shoulder. She was weary as she entered her cabin. Checking the time, she showered and changed into some comfortable off duty clothes and was outside the Captain's door at 20.10. When her repeated button pressing failed to make the Captain appear at the door she was about to enquire as to his whereabouts when the man himself rounded the corner near his door, his nose buried in a PADD.
"Jean-Luc?"
He stopped his feet and raised his head sharply, a look of mild annoyance on his face.
"Doctor?"
"We have an appointment…remember?"
He frowned and shook his head, smiling ruefully.
"Ah yes, so we do."
They entered his quarters together and Beverly shooed him into his bedroom while she replicated their dinner. She was setting the table when he reappeared, making her sigh exasperatedly.
"Still in uniform? Jean-Luc why don't you…"
He shook his head curtly and scowled.
"You know better than that Beverly. This close to the Zone I have to be…"
The Doctor raised her hands.
"I know, I know…ready for anything. Are you going to sleep in it too?"
His look of displeasure chastened the irritated Doctor.
"I'm sorry Jean-Luc. Come on let's eat."
With both officers tired, conversation was non-existent. Beverly watched as Jean-Luc struggled to finish the moderate meal she'd given him. Concerned, she frowned when he yawned and set down his cutlery. Knowing nagging would only provoke anger, she instead took his hand and gained his attention.
"I'll clean up here. Why don't you go sit on the sofa and I'll bring you a cup of Earl Grey?"
Nodding, he stood slowly and took the time to stretch, grimacing at the stiffness of his muscles. When Beverly returned from the replicator she was heartened to see her best friend smiling warmly at her. His deep voice was rough with fatigue, but it still sent a shiver down her spine.
"Thank you Beverly, I'm sorry I'm not better company."
She sat beside him and placed their drinks on the low table.
"That's ok Jean-Luc, I understand. How long will we be on patrol?"
She was surprised by the look of worry in his eyes.
"To be honest I don't know. Headquarters has received information that the Romulans have deployed several ships close to the border. Of course we're in the dark as to their intent, but the mere presence of a fleet of war birds has Command worried. Our orders are to engage any vessel that encroaches into our space…that and to gather as much information as we can, a task made almost impossible by their improved cloaking devices. They could be sitting right alongside and we wouldn't know."
Beverly's eyes followed his as they gazed out the viewports at the streaking stars, highlighted against the blackness of space.
"How long have Command known?"
He sighed and rubbed his face.
"Ten days."
"So that's why we were pulled from escorting those colonists? I wondered about that, their ships weren't nearly well enough equipped for the journey they were undertaking. And the Exeter…she's been re-directed too hasn't she?"
Jean-Luc sat back and stretched his legs out in front of him.
"Uh huh. John said they'd been ordered to Bajor to bolster our presence at the worm hole."
"So that business about Kemming III was a red herring?"
His nod was his answer. They sat in silence for several moments, each deep in thought. Beverly recovered first and gently rubbed his thigh.
"Ok fair enough, but that doesn't mean you can't get a good night's sleep. Who's on duty?"
"Data."
"Right. You go and get into your sleep wear and I'll tuck you in."
He sighed and shook his head.
"Beverly…you know I can't…"
She stood and placed her fists on her hips.
"Don't make me order you!"
He came abruptly to his feet with remarkable grace and speed, catching the Doctor unprepared.
"Doctor!"
She swallowed and stood her ground. In a quietly insistent voice she said,
"I mean it Captain."
He held her gaze, his jaw flexing. With a suddenness that startled her, her turned on his heel and stalked into his bedroom, the door whispering shut behind him.
His anger was palpable, evident even though he was no longer in the room. Beverly took a claming breath and waited five minutes before approaching his bedroom. The door opened and she saw Jean-Luc dressed in a pair of dark blue silk shorts, his hands busy aligning his boots near the bed, his uniform neatly folded on the chair. He heard her come closer and turned to face her. Gesturing to himself, he sneered,
"Satisfied?"
Sighing, Beverly pointed to the bed.
"I will be when you get in there."
He half turned, but stopped and faced her again, his face settled in a deep frown.
"Why do you do this to me Beverly? Why do you persist in…"
Becoming irritated, she gripped his shoulders, gently shaking them.
"Because I care dammit!"
His eyes became intense as he looked deeply into hers.
"You care? For me or the Captain?"
Shocked, Beverly felt anger building.
"That's a stupid thing to ask! You know perfectly well that I care…"
She got no further. He was suddenly standing very close, his hands burying themselves in her hair. His breath washed over her lips as his face neared hers.
"Show me."
When their lips touched she shuddered as the electricity flashed through her body. When she didn't protest he deepened the kiss, his tongue easing open her mouth. With tentative strokes, his tongue caressed hers, becoming bolder as she fell into the sensations coursing through her. Her hands slid up his arms, but when they reached his shoulders she gripped him and pulled away. Closing her eyes and bowing her head she whispered urgently,
"No…"
He gently lifted her head and gazed at her face, his voice broken with sorrow and frustration.
"Why Beverly…for God's sake tell me why?"
She stepped back from him, her eyes still closed. Shaking her head she found her voice.
"I…I can't. Goodnight Jean-Luc."
He reached for her but she escaped his grasp and ignored his plea for her to stay. Her name, spoken with anger and despair was the last thing she heard as the doors to his quarters closed, leaving her out in the corridor.

 

 

 

 

"Blue…yes I think dark blue…"
Beverly leaned forward looking at her feet. Thinking of that shade made her remember Jean-Luc's sleep shorts.
"Dammit!"
She straightened and took a calming breath. She was about to stand when the door annunciator sounded. A deep frown creased the alabaster skin of her brow. Irritated at the late caller, she asked,
"Computer, who is at my door?"
"Captain Jean-Luc Picard."
Beverly clenched her fists and closed her eyes. Raising her voice slightly, she called out,
"I'm in bed Captain."
Through the speaker in her ceiling his baritone resounded.
"Beverly…we need to talk. I want to apologise for…"
"I'm very tired Captain and I've got a busy day tomorrow. I think it best that we both get some sleep."
The continued use of his rank irritated Jean-Luc. Hiding behind their respective positions was an old trick of Beverly's. He tried once more.
"Beverly…please…"
"Goodnight Captain."
The channel closed and the Captain glowered.
"Fuck!"
Turning on his heel he marched to the nearest turbolift. Already dressed in uniform, he stated his destination.
"Bridge!"

 

 

 

The next day Jean-Luc called a senior staff meeting. As his officers filed in, he studiously ignored Beverly as she took her seat, focussing instead on the obsidian top of the conference table. When everyone was seated, he raised his head and cleared his throat.
"We have a situation. Starfleet headquarters contacted me last night to inform me that we will be patrolling the Zone for the interim. As to when we will be relieved…I don't know. Admiral K'tok has told me that the Romulan Empire has been recently destabilised by internal strife. We don't know what faction is in charge of the fleet sent to the Zone…that's something we've been asked to find out."
Will straightened and stroked his beard.
"This could be tricky. If the fleet is under the control of the government…well I think we know what to expect…stand off and chest thumping. But if it's under the auspices of some unknown group…what the hell are we supposed to do?"
The Captain regarded his First Officer with equanimity.
"We have been ordered to engage any ship which encroaches into our space."
"That's it? What if it's the whole damn fleet? What about back up?"
Jean-Luc shook his head and pursed his lips.
"None in the foreseeable future…we're on our own."
Beverly could remain silent no longer.
"But that's ludicrous Captain! We can't be expected to keep this whole sector safe by ourselves…we need help."
Not making eye contact, Jean-Luc sighed.
"I agree with you Doctor but our orders stand. Geordi how far have you got with our detection grid?"
The brilliant Engineer scowled, his visor glinting in the light.
"I've done what I can with the limited information we received. Captain I can't guarantee we will be able to detect them…all I can hope at this point is that the tachyons spike as I hope they will…if they don't…well we'll be blind."
The Captain nodded and turned his attention to Data, the third in Command and the only android officer in Starfleet.
"Data what are your thoughts?"
He tilted his head considering his superior's question, a gesture not necessary but one he adopted to appear more human.
"I agree with Geordi Captain. We have done the best we can with the available information."
Jean-Luc looked around the table, still avoiding eye contact with Beverly.
"Very well. Counsellor I want you to be aware of heightened stress amongst the crew. Arrange for as much off duty activity as you can under the circumstances. Doctor you'd better have Sickbay prepared for casualties…I can only hope your preparations aren't necessary."
He again cast his eyes over his senior staff and nodded once.
"Dismissed."
All rose except Beverly and the Captain. He sensed her reluctance to speak with him in front of the others and remained silent as his officers filed out. When they were alone, she reached for his hand, which he withdrew out of her reach.
"Jean-Luc?"
His eyes fixed on the tabletop, he responded,
"Doctor?"
She sighed and briefly shut her eyes.
"You went back on duty last night didn't you."
He said nothing, his face a mask, his hands fisted under the table.
"I thought we had a deal? You eat…get some decent rest…"
"Is there a point to this Doctor because I'm rather busy right now?"
Annoyed with his obtuseness, Beverly stood suddenly and glared down at him.
"Fine! Stew in your own juice Captain…I'll be in Sickbay!"
She left swiftly her ire tainting the atmosphere of the room. Jean-Luc remained seated for only a few minutes before he abruptly stood, tugged down his jacket and exited the lounge. Striding onto the Bridge he barked,
"ETA at the Zone Mr. Larkam?"
The Ensign clearly felt his Captain's anger and responded with alacrity.
"Two point three hours Sir!"
All the Bridge personnel stiffened with tension as their most senior officer prowled around the stations, emanating angst. Will stood from the Command chair and watched his Captain, a frown upon his face. He felt the touch of a familiar caress in his mind.
"Imzadi?"
He sent back a subliminal message.
"I don't know…something's wrong."
His eyes sought and found the inky black eyes of Counsellor Deanna Troi. Her brow creased in worry, she followed the Captain's progress around the Bridge.
She caught Will's attention and sent…
"He's furious about something…I sense intense anger…and despair. He wasn't like this during the briefing…in fact he was almost unreadable to me. This is recent…didn't Beverly stay behind to speak with him?"
Giving a surreptitious nod, Will kept his eyes on Jean-Luc.
"Well something happened between them. Wait a minute."
Will chanced a glance at his lover to find her eyes clouded as she cast her mind outwards seeking someone else. After a few minutes she centred herself and frowned.
"Will? Beverly's in a state too. What the hell has happened?"
Will gave a small shrug just as the Captain rounded the lower level of the Command centre. He glared at his First Officer and let his eyes slide over Deanna, glaring at her too, then he stopped with his fists on his hips.
"You wanted to say something Number One?"
Swallowing and feeling the waves of anger coming from his Captain, Will plucked up his courage.
"Sir could I see you in the Ready Room please?"
Jean-Luc stood perfectly still, his dark hazel eyes glittering dangerously. Abruptly he stalked past Will and entered his Ready Room, closely followed by his First Officer. Instead of sitting behind his desk, as was his custom, he turned to face his officer, his arms defensively folded across his chest. In a deadly quiet voice he said,
"Well, what is it?"
"Sir…something's wrong…very wrong. Since you've come out of the lounge…you're angry Sir…furious in fact. Is there anything I can do?"
After glaring at Will, Jean-Luc lowered his head and sighed. He unfolded his arms and allowed his body to relax, perching on his desk and gripping its edge.
"It's nothing to concern you Number One…I'm sorry, I shouldn't have let it show."
Will nodded and relaxed a little himself.
"I see Captain…but if I can help…"
Jean-Luc shook his head and stood, once again the unflappable Captain Will knew so well.
"No Will that won't be necessary, but thank you nonetheless. I will endeavour to be more…circumspect in future."
Will recognised the subtle dismissal and turned to leave. He halted just shy of the door sensor.
"Captain…you can talk to me about anything…you know that?"
Jean-Luc mustered a warm smile and nodded.
"I know…thank you."
Will nodded once and left. The Captain clenched his jaw briefly and shook his head brusquely.
"You old fool Picard!"
He rounded his desk and was soon ensconced in the mission briefing.

 

 

 

 

Beverly strode into Sickbay and had issued several curt orders before she realised her staff were casting sidelong glances at her. Taking a deep breath, she summoned a smile and adopted a more civil approach to her co-workers. She has just organised teams for projected triage when Deanna appeared at her side. The Doctor glanced at her, grimaced and attempted to walk away. Deanna would have none of it. Following the Doctor, she guided her into the office and waited until Beverly had taken her seat.
"What's wrong?"
Beverly huffed and flicked her hand at her friend.
"Nothing! Nothing's wrong…I'm just…busy."
"Bullshit Beverly! You're so incensed I can feel you decks away! What happened…and don't tell me it didn't involve the Captain because he's as angry as you are."
Shocked at Deanna's use of an expletive, Beverly swallowed her smart reply and instead considered giving the Counsellor an honest answer. She cogitated too long.
"Beverly?"
Groaning, the red head pulled one leg up and hugged her knee.
"Oh Christ Deanna…it's so complicated! Last night I was in his cabin…late…and I'd managed to get him to agree to eat and sleep properly. Next thing I know he was kissing me…and I responded. I was shocked…it was the last thing I expected. He was dead tired and worn out, yet here he was curling my toes."
Deanna's eyebrows rose, but she kept her opinions to herself.
"What did you do?"
Beverly closed her eyes and grimaced.
"Like I said I responded and he deepened the kiss. It was getting very heated when I stopped it. I pulled away and said something like…no I can't…and left."
"Did you want to leave?"
Beverly was silent for some minutes and Deanna gave her the time to collect her thoughts.
"No. In fact I've thought about it for a long time…too damn long."
She sighed deeply.
"It's just that…"
When she'd drifted in silence for a while, Deanna gently spoke.
"What happened then?"
"Oh I went back to my quarters, got changed and was sitting contemplating my toes when he turned up and wanted to talk to me."
Deanna frowned and plexed, waiting for the emotional spike the memory elicited dissipate in her friend.
"What did you do?"
Beverly sighed again and rubbed her face with her elegant hands.
"I shut him out completely. I ignored his pleas and cut him off at the knees. I wouldn't be surprised if he never speaks to me again."
Deanna tilted her head and watched the sorrow creep across the planes of her friend's face.
"I think your friendship with him is stronger than that Beverly. Give it time."
The Doctor opened her eyes and Deanna saw they glittered with unshed tears.
"Maybe…I hope so Deanna…I can't think of what my life would be like without him…I…oh God…I love him…I just can't seem to…oh God what a mess!"
She closed her eyes, loosening two tears that coursed down her cheeks. Lowering her head, she didn't hear her friend move from the chair to wrap her arm around her.
"Time Beverly…that's all either of you need. Perhaps after this alert is over…"
Beverly nodded and straightened, already denying her loss of control. She gently shrugged out of the embrace and stood, smoothing her uniform. Deanna, used to Beverly's coping methods wasn't offended. She stood back and watched as the Doctor composed herself.
"You'll be ok?"
A rueful smile emerged and Beverly nodded.
"I know who to see if I'm not."
Deanna shook her head and laughed.
"Ha! That'll be the day!"
The two friends went back into Sickbay and Deanna gave Beverly's hand a quick squeeze. The Doctor winked at her and watched her leave. Smiling grimly she went back to her work.

 

 

 

 

The patrol had been quiet so far. For the last two days the Enterprise had been casting her net of tachyons, hoping to register the presence of War Birds. Beverly had had no contact with the Bridge, but late in the afternoon of the third day she felt she should give her Captain a proper report of the health of his crew. She undertook her journey to the Bridge with some trepidation, clutching her PADD as if it were a lifeline.
Will was occupying the Command Chair when she entered and he lifted his chin, pointing to the Ready Room.
In a quiet voice he muttered,
"He's been in there about four hours."
Beverly frowned and moved closer.
"Has he been eating? Sleeping?"
The big man shrugged his shoulders.
"To be honest I don't know for sure. He orders the crew to eat and sleep, but I don't know if he takes his own advice."
The Doctor nodded and approached the door. When she'd pressed the annunciator twice and still it went unanswered, she used her override to enter. The Captain was sleeping soundly on the sofa, a plate with a half eaten sandwich and a PADD balanced on his chest. She noticed an obviously cold cup of tea on the floor and shook her head when she saw how slim he'd become. His uniform was actually baggy on his lean frame. She knelt beside him and gently shook his shoulder.
"Hey."
He inhaled sharply, his eyes cracking open. He would've sat up but he realised just in time that he had articles perched on his chest. His large hands gathered the items and he sat up slowly, swinging his legs around until he was seated properly and facing his visitor. His first attempt at speaking was aborted as he cleared his throat. Frowning, he tried again.
"Doctor?"
"How long have you been asleep?"
He stood and moved to his desk, turning the terminal.
"I was going to have something to eat and study that PADD at…11.30."
Beverly smiled softly and stood beside him.
"And it's now 15.45. What does that tell you?"
He scowled and rounded his desk, putting some distance between them.
"It tells me I've wasted enough time and that I should apply myself to my duties…as should you Doctor. Why are you here?"
Pursing her lips and swallowing her annoyance, Beverly sat in front of him and placed her PADD on the desk.
"I came to give you an in depth report on the crew's condition."
He nodded curtly and held his hand out. She passed him the PADD and he made a show of bringing up the required information. Reading it for a while, he said, without looking at her,
"Ah yes, this is quite…complete. I'll let you know what I think. Is there anything else?"
Beverly's face gave him a tender look and she reached across the desk for his hand. He settled his hands on his lap and stared at the terminal.
"Jean-Luc…"
His eyes, when they met hers were hard and full of hurt.
"What Doctor? What could you possibly say to me to make me feel better?"
Abruptly Beverly withdrew her hand and sat up straight, her face a professional mask.
"Captain as CMO I am ordering you to your quarters for a decent meal and a good night's rest. I will inform the First Officer of my orders and I expect you to comply."
Bringing his hands to the desktop, he couldn't stop them forming fists. He bowed his head and closed his eyes, willing the anger…the outrage…to subside. When he felt in control he muttered,
"Very well. Am I to be allowed to return to duty tomorrow?"
Still maintaining her icy visage, Beverly intoned,
"After you report to Sickbay for a complete physical. If I'm satisfied with the outcome, then yes, you may return to duty."
His deep baritone now soft and deadly, he asked,
"And if you aren't?"
"Then I'll address that when I come to it."
He sniffed derisively and stood.
"You realise that I will enter my strenuous objections to this…unnecessary course of action?"
"So noted Captain. I trust you will report directly to your quarters…or do you require an escort?"
Now icy cold, the Captain ground out,
"That will not be necessary."
"Very well Captain. Goodnight."
Beverly held her breath until she was out of the room. She stopped long enough to tell Will of her decision, then left the Bridge and hurried to her quarters. She only just made it to her toilet before she lost her lunch.

 

 

 

Jean-Luc was seated on the sofa, clad in his sleep shorts and dressing gown, reading a PADD. It was late and he frowned when the annunciator sounded. He stood and called,
"Come."
The doors whispered open to reveal Beverly Crusher, dressed in off duty clothes, her hands behind her back.
"May I come in?…Or would you rather vaporise me on the spot?"
He nodded slowly, though his eyes were hard.
She entered and made her way to the viewports, choosing to stare at the stars rather than face him. He stood his ground, opting to watch her.
"You must realise I had only your well being in mind when I issued those orders. I meant no offence."
"Yet you issued them, knowing how I would feel about them."
She turned to face him, her arms hugging her chest. Lowering her face she muttered,
"You and I both know there's more to this than your pride."
His silence made her look at him. What she saw made her shudder. His face was a mask of pain, haunted eyes sought to rest on something calming. His arms hung limply at his sides, his shoulders slumped. She stepped towards him and his head came up abruptly, a look of hurt defiance in his eyes.
His voice was strained, cracking with emotion.
"As I said before…what could you possibly say to me to make me feel any better? You shut me out…you…"
"I know! And I hate myself for doing it! Look Jean-Luc I don't have the answers you seek, but I can tell you I care…I care deeply…"
He stepped up to her and took her forearms in his hands. Dipping his head to catch her eyes, he implored,
"Tell me! Tell me how much you care."
Dredging up all her courage, Beverly lifted her chin and faced him. Summoning her voice she said breathily,
"I love you."
His body froze…in fact he stopped breathing. His piercing eyes bored into hers and his grip of her arms became almost painful.
"You what?"
She swallowed and repeated herself.
"I love you…I have for a long time."
He surprised her by suddenly releasing her and striding to the centre of the room. He stood for a moment with his back to her and she feared what his reaction would be. Slowly turning, she was relieved to see his face had softened; in fact he tilted his head and half smiled.
"You love me?"
She hugged herself again and nodded.
"Uh huh."
"Then why..?"
With a huff of exasperation, Beverly circumnavigated the table and sat heavily on the sofa.
"I don't know! Every time we go there…I panic!"
He approached her slowly, as if sidling up to a scared animal that might bolt at a moment's notice. Sitting gently he turned to her and spoke in his softest voice.
"Beverly…if you feel as I do…then we should explore those feelings. We should feel free to express ourselves, to experiment with each other…if it's time you want, I won't rush you. I'm a patient man Beverly…you know that. I've waited thirty years, I can wait some more."
Beverly sighed, an unwanted spike of anger boiled under her skin and she was at a loss to understand why. Shaking her head quickly, she sought to ease his worries.
"It's not that. Look if I understood it, I could explain it to you, but I don't. All I know is, every time we try to initiate something more than what we already have…I feel…afraid."
He sighed and clasped his hands in his lap.
"Are you afraid of losing our friendship?"
"Maybe. It would be disastrous if we tried for something more and failed. Where would our friendship be then?"
"But Beverly we could spend the rest of our lives conjecturing about 'what if's.' If we don't try, we'll never know."
Shaking her head, Beverly stood.
"That's just it Jean-Luc…I don't know if I'm willing to try! Look…right now isn't the ideal time to be dealing with this. How about, when the current alert is over and we return to more normal missions, we get together and talk about this over a bottle of wine?"
Jean-Luc stood and stepped close to her, so close she could smell his clean warm scent. Rattled, she stepped back and took a deep breath. Seeing her discomfort, Jean-Luc relaxed and stepped back also.
"And in the meantime?"
She risked a glance at his eyes and sighed at the love she saw there, swirling in their depths.
"In the meantime we do our jobs and look out for each other."
He allowed a sardonic smile.
"So it's business as usual then?"
His playfulness, albeit forced, warmed her. Her own smile appearing, she winked at him.
"Uh huh…and I'll see you in Sickbay first thing tomorrow…after you get a good night's sleep."
He lowered his head and studied his bare feet.
"As you wish Doctor."
She moved to leave, but as she passed him, she gripped his arm and kissed him tenderly on the cheek.
"Don't forget Jean-Luc…I do love you."
He nodded thoughtfully and half turned to watch her leave.
"I'll see you tomorrow."
She turned to him and, as the doors closed, blew him a kiss.
He stood for a full ten minutes deep in thought before finally shaking himself free of his reverie. Half an hour later he was in bed, but sleep took a long while to claim him.

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning saw the Captain sitting in his briefs on a biobed in his private room in Sickbay. Alone, he was waiting for Beverly to return with the results of the battery of tests she'd conducted over the course of the morning. Already irritated, he glowered at the nurse who came in to collect a PADD and sneered when he enquired if the Captain would like a drink. He was about to call the Doctor when she wandered in, her attention firmly fixed on a tricorder. She detached the module from the instrument and waved it about his torso, frowning and inputting some instructions. He was forming an indignant complaint, when she pushed on his shoulder and said absently,
"Lie down."
With nothing else to do but comply, Jean-Luc scowled again and swivelled on the bed, bringing his feet up and doing as she requested. There followed a lengthy exploration of his lower abdomen, endured in silence by the angry man. Abruptly, Beverly snapped the tricorder closed and replaced the module. Jean-Luc glared at her and said through gritted teeth,
"Can I sit up now?"
Lost in thought, Beverly stared sightlessly at him, then gathered her thoughts and said lightly,
"Of course you can."
He sniffed derisively and straightened his back.
"Are you finished? Can I get out of here?"
"What? Oh no…not yet. I want to take some blood."
He snarled.
"Dammit Doctor, I've been here all morning! When are these bloody tests going to be completed?"
Startled, Beverly gaped, then glared.
"You can go when I say so! Now sit still and be patient."
He was about to remonstrate with her when she placed a hypo syringe against his neck and withdrew 20mls of blood. He winced and rubbed his neck, an action completely ignored by the Doctor. She went to the computer and entered the blood sample, watching the monitor keenly. She seemed satisfied with the results because she turned to the Captain and said,
"Ok you can get dressed now. Come and see me in my office when you're ready."
She ignored his glare and his grumbled, "It's about time." And left him to dress.
Scant minutes later he was seated in her office, tapping his fingers on her desk.
She came in shortly but he addressed her even before she sat.
"Well what are the results? Can I return to duty?"
Sighing, Beverly laid a PADD on the desk and took the time to brush her hair back behind her ears, all the time further irritating her Captain.
"Doctor!"
"Captain! For God's sake be patient will you!"
Jean-Luc slumped back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest and bowing to the inevitable.
"So tell me."
"Ok. Your sleep last night did you a power of good, but it wasn't enough. Also, your blood sugar is low, muscle fibres are weak and your immune system is slightly depressed. All in all…you've been cutting it too fine. A man of you age…"
"What about my age?!"
"As I was saying…a man of your age should take greater care of himself if he wishes to function at the optimum. In short, eat better meals…more frequently…and get better rest, also more frequently."
Jean-Luc sat up and tugged on his jacket.
"Fine. I'll eat better and get more sleep. Now, may I return to duty?"
"Jean-Luc…"
"Beverly…"
The Doctor sighed expansively and raised her hands.
"Ok you can return to duty. BUT…if I find you've been ignoring my advice…I'll remove you from command and restrict you to quarters. Understood?"
He nodded curtly and stood.
"There will be a briefing this afternoon. Will you attend?"
She looked up at him, so handsome and oozing authority.
"Yes, I'll be there."
She watched him leave and sighed.
"Dammit Jean-Luc, why don't you look after yourself? Why do I...?"
Her thoughts came to a screeching halt. Sitting up straight she shook her head.
"Is that it? Is it that I can only see him as a Doctor sees a patient? Am I capable of caring for him as a lover? Or is my interest in his well being purely driven by my instinct as a Doctor? No! I love him…don't I? Surely I would care for him as a friend…regardless of my profession? Oh God…what a mess!"
With exaggerated movements she picked up her stylus and threw it across the room, vaguely disappointed when it didn't break.

 

 

 

 

There followed three days of tense patrolling. Every anomaly was scrutinised, each blip in their sensors investigated. Late in the afternoon Jean-Luc was sitting in the Command Chair reading a report when an alarm triggered from the science station. The Lieutenant at the station reported to his Captain.
"Sir, we have an irregularity in the tachyon grid."
Jean-Luc was on his feet immediately.
"Commander LaForge to the Bridge! Where Lieutenant?"
"Port quarter Sir, bearing 02.7 mark 03.8, six thousand metres."
Jean-Luc called over his shoulder,
"Will, target our sensors on that area."
The turbolift doors sighed open and Geordi stepped onto the Bridge. Going straight to the science station, he checked the readings then stepped up to the engineering station.
"Captain we have dissipation of ions. There's something there…something big."
Jean-Luc stood behind Geordi and muttered,
"Big enough to be a cloaked War Bird?"
The Chief Engineer studied his read outs and slowly nodded.
"Yes Captain I think so."
Straightening, Jean-Luc caught Will's eye and nodded. The First Officer stood and called out,
"Red alert! Shields up!"
The Captain glanced at his young helm officer and smiled grimly.
"Maintain course and speed Ensign."
A tremulous "Aye Sir." Was heard as the Captain directed his attention to the monitors.
"What is it doing Geordi?"
A slight pause then the Engineer responded.
"It's mirroring us Captain. Same course, same speed."
"How far on our side of the Zone are we Mr. Data?"
"Two thousand kilometres Sir."
Jean-Luc gently rubbed his fingers over his lower lip.
"Hmm. Close, but definitely on our side. Ensign Garnsworthy, one half a degree turn to starboard, same speed."
"Aye Sir."
The mighty ship made her leisurely turn and Jean-Luc waited for Geordi's assessment.
"It's turning too Captain, exactly one half a degree to starboard."
The Captain thought for a moment then said in a quiet voice,
"Ensign Garnsworthy, rotate the ship through the axis, using thrusters only, until you reach the coordinates I'm putting through to your board, then come to a dead stop."
"Aye Sir."
The Bridge crew watched as the stars slowly swept across the screen.
"And now Mr. LaForge, how are we positioned in relation to our bogey?"
"It's directly off our bow Sir, six thousand metres."
"Very good. Now Geordi, I want you to emit a low level ion burst through the forward deflector dish."
"Captain?"
Jean-Luc stood beside his Chief and leaned against the console.
"We were expecting a spike in the tachyons, weren't we?"
"Yes Sir."
"And did we get any?"
Geordi grinned, seeing where his brilliant Captain was heading.
"No Captain, all we got was a disturbance and ion dissipation."
"So?"…
"We send out a low level burst of ions and hope that we will silhouette the ship behind the tachyons."
Jean-Luc patted the dark Engineer on the shoulder.
"Quite so Commander. At your convenience Mr. LaForge."
As Geordi worked his magic with the instruments, Jean-Luc strolled down to stand before the viewscreen with Will. The big man stroked his beard and sighed.
"They might not like being discovered."
"They're in our space Will. They're very lucky I'm a patient man or they may have had a volley of quantum torpedoes to deal with."
Geordi's voice drifted down from his station.
"We're ready Captain."
"Very good Commander. Make it so."
Through their feet, the deck plates vibrated as the ship emitted the ion burst. Within seconds the sinister shape of a Romulan War Bird appeared as if shielded by sparkling blue dust.
"Well well, what have we here?"
Data frowned at his Captain, taking him far too literally.
"It is a War Bird Captain."
"Thank you Data. Hail them Mr. Carstairs."
The pretty Lieutenant at Tactical busied over her console.
"I have them Sir."
"On screen."
Jean-Luc braced his feet and faced the viewscreen. The image flickered briefly before a clear picture emerged. An elderly female Romulan Commander peered at the Captain, before nodding slightly.
"I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise. To whom am I speaking?"
"Commander Ralok of the T' Ronne. Your reputation precedes you Captain…I am honoured."
Jean-Luc bowed his head at the compliment and paced a few steps, his hands behind his back.
"Tell me Commander…what are you doing in Federation space?"
Ralok smiled and tilted her head.
"Let me ask you a question Captain. How did you detect us?"
The Captain stopped pacing and turned to the screen, his smile vanishing.
"I must inform you Commander, my orders are to engage any vessel that encroaches into our space. I ask you again…what are you doing in Federation space?"
The bravado seemed to leave the Romulan in stages. First she scowled and turned her back. She stalked to her Command Chair and seated herself before barking several orders to her crew. Then she sighed and slumped.
"This is difficult Picard. I take it you are aware of the…internal upheavals…the Empire has suffered recently?"
Jean-Luc straightened his back and folded his arms.
"I am aware of it, although I have no details."
The Romulan waved her hand.
"It's over and order has been restored, but unfortunately some young…hot headed…Commanders took it upon themselves to abscond with some War Birds, intent on causing trouble with the Federation…and anyone else they can find. My orders, and those of my fellow Commanders is to find them and bring them home…and I'm not so proud that I wouldn't ask for your assistance."
Jean-Luc studied the deck a moment, ordering his thoughts.
"So you were using us as bait? Waiting to see if we were attacked, then come to our aid?"
"More or less Captain. What's most important is that we round up these…malcontents…before they do any damage. Will you help us?"
"Will you give us assistance in detection? We will need something better than that which we employ now."
The old Romulan straightened and sniffed.
"It seemed to work well enough!"
Jean-Luc unfolded his arms and placed his fists on his hips.
"I will help you if you will help us."
The woman stared at the Captain as if trying to peer into his very soul. Abruptly she nodded.
"Very well Captain! I will send information you may find useful."
"Thank you Commander. Now tell me, where are we likely to find these…rebels?"
"Ah we've been working on that. Our last data package puts them nearby, perhaps only a few parsecs distant."
Jean-Luc frowned and scratched his cheek.
"But if that's so surely they would have us on their scanners by now?"
"Oh most certainly Captain. But they're very skittish, very young. They will be over cautious, after all they will identify you as the Flagship of your fleet. They won't approach you until they're certain of victory."
"I see. How many ships are we talking about?"
"Three Captain, all War Birds."
The hand he rubbed over his bare scalp demonstrated Jean-Luc's worry.
"And the crews Commander, what are they like?"
"Mostly untrained, idealistic young men and women, more interested in politics that space battles."
"So we have three hot headed young Commanders, staffed by idealistic, untrained juveniles, flying around in fully armed War Birds with a chip on their shoulders and a grudge to settle? Not a very stable group would you say Commander?"
The Romulan chuckled and grinned at her counterpart.
"Is that what they call understatement? If it is you have a talent for it!"
The Captain summoned a smile of his own.
"So how many ships are out looking for them?"
"Eight in all. What with the unrest, we're stretched pretty thin. Eight ships along the entire Zone…well I think you understand."
"Indeed I do."
Will stepped closer to his Captain and said sotto voce,
"We have their information Sir."
Jean-Luc tugged on his jacket and smiled at the Commander.
"Well it seems we have some study to do. I take it you will stay cloaked and within easy reach?"
The older woman nodded.
"Yes Captain I think that would be best. I will alert you if I learn anything new."
"Thank You Commander Ralok. Picard out."
Jean-Luc turned to his First Officer and sighed.
"Well Number One let's get busy. Have all relevant staff brought up to speed on the new information…I want to be able to scan for those cloaked ships ASAP. Senior briefing at…10.00 hours."
"Aye Sir."

 

 

 

 

As Jean-Luc finished relating his encounter with the Romulan Commander, the staff not at the meeting shifted in their seats. Beverly snorted and shook her head.
"So we're to be bait…for a bunch of surly young Romulans with more interest in destroying us than returning peace to their planet?"
The Captain nodded, his eyes watching the rest of his senior staff.
"We will, of course, have an updated method of detecting them…hopefully well before they decide to risk challenging us."
Data lifted one finger and cocked his head.
"Captain I fail to understand why these rebel Commanders would want to embark on their present course. Would it not be more beneficial to their cause to return home and accept punishment for what they have done?"
His sardonic smile prompted Data to surreptitiously attempt one himself.
"Oh I think they would rather be punished for destroying the Federation Flagship than just absconding with the ships. To date all they've done is steal some ships. Until they actually attack us…or anyone else for that matter, they're not in all that much trouble. It's amazing what can be forgiven when the age of the perpetrator is taken into account."
Will grimaced and placed his hands on the table.
"If they hadn't promoted those kids so early…why the hell did their Command structure think they were ready anyway?"
Jean-Luc shrugged.
"You must remember Number One, their planet has been strife torn for years now. Who ever controlled the fleet was always going to hold sway in the government; perhaps those…youngsters…were well connected? Who knows? The point is they are now our problem. Geordi how well will our sensors work with the new configurations?"
The Engineer looked at his Captain, a wide grin slowly appearing.
"With what the Romulans gave us…we should be able to see them within our normal sensor range…AND I've been given their warp signatures. At least if we get into battle we won't be firing on our…friends."
The Captain nodded, pursing his lips.
"Now we have to remember there are three of them and one of us. I'm not too keen on relying on Ralok…her assurances were very sincere but I'd rather depend on old-fashioned preparedness. Will I want a new series of manoeuvres to augment what we already have. Bear in mind that we may be complicated by another ship wanting to be involved. Try to give us an autonomous approach, with enough room to defend ourselves adequately."
"Yes Captain."
"Data I would like you to study the weaknesses of the War Birds…can we take out their weapons and shields without maximum damage? Considering the age of the crews, I don't want to inflict unnecessary casualties. If we can quickly disable these ships and hand them over to the Romulans it will greatly enhance our standing with their government. Counsellor…how is the crew taking the duration of the alert?"
Deanna straightened and answered her Captain.
"As well as can be expected Captain. I have had a few nervous crew drop by for reassurance, but it's usually newer members, not the more seasoned officers."
Jean-Luc nodded then turned his attention to Beverly.
"And you Doctor Crusher. How is Sickbay?"
She flashed him a warm smile and nodded.
"Fine Captain. We're as ready as we can be."
Placing his hands flat on the tabletop, Jean-Luc let his eyes wander to each of his staff. Nodding decisively, he said,
"Very well, dismissed."

 

 

 

 

 

For five days they trawled up and down their designated section of the Zone, occasionally running close to the border, at other times allowing themselves to drift further away. During the tense hours the crew acquitted themselves admirably. It was with great satisfaction that Jean-Luc read the reports of his department heads. So far, all was well. As for himself, he kept his promise to Beverly, eating properly and getting adequate sleep. On the morning of the sixth day the officer at tactical shattered the calm of the Bridge.
"I have a contact Captain! Sir…make that multiple contacts. One is just inside the Zone, one is eighty thousand kilometres in front of us and the other is seventy-five thousand kilometres behind us. Both the fore and aft contacts are in Federation space."
Jean-Luc turned to his First Officer and raised his eyebrow.
"What do you think Number One? Upgrade from yellow alert?"
Will craned his head up and asked,
"Are they on the move?"
Checking his console took only seconds.
"Aye Sir. The fore and aft contacts are approaching, the one in the Zone is keeping pace with us."
Will smirked and leaned towards his Captain.
"Trying for a triangular attack?"
Jean-Luc sighed.
"Most probably. They will have us on their scanners so we may as well react accordingly. Red alert! Shields up."
Will chuckled.
"They're probably trying to figure out how we detected them so early."
Jean-Luc sniffed and asked Data,
"Is our friend still hanging around?"
"Yes Sir, six thousand kilometres to starboard, same course, same speed."
"Very good. Tactical ETA to contacts?"
"Five minutes Captain."
"Hail them."
Jean-Luc studied his boots as he waited; his ankles crossed elegantly, his fingers meshed in his lap.
"No response Sir."
"Again Ensign."
"Aye…"
Data sat up suddenly and turned to his Captain.
"Sir the forward vessel has fired."
Jean-Luc frowned and looked at Will.
"From this distance? They are keen. Evasive manoeuvres helm."
The huge ship lazily swung out of the way as the torpedoes streaked by, but the projectiles turned tightly and retargeted them.
"Helm hard to port!"
Just as the Enterprise lurched aside, the torpedoes crossed paths and aligned themselves with each other. Again turning quickly, they angled in under the Starship and deliberately annihilated themselves in one vast blast. The great ship was blown off her path and shuddered as the shock waves buffeted her. On the Bridge the occupants held on as the lights dimmed and the inertial dampeners went briefly off line. Jean-Luc spun in his chair and said tightly,
"ETA?"
"Eighty seconds Sir. Incoming!"
"From where?"
"Aft…and ahead! Four torpedoes Sir and they're firing their phasers."
"Helm execute Picard gamma now!"
"Aye Sir."
Still clutching their seats, the crew were thrown about as the ship strained to take the evasive actions her Captain had ordered. They eluded the torpedoes momentarily, but couldn't escape the raking phaser fire that splattered against their shields.
Staring at the viewscreen, Jean-Luc shouted,
"Target both ships! Return fire at vulnerable areas. Full phasers and photon torpedoes! Fire!"
One of the huge green ships sliced through the space in front of them, spitting fire and torpedoes. As did the first, the missiles ran in pairs, seeking to link up to inflict the most damage they could. Two massive blasts shook the Enterprise, wrenching loose a vent in the ceiling above Jean-Luc's chair. He was getting to his feet when another blast rocked the ship causing him to lose his balance. Toppling backwards, he struck his head on the side of the chair and the vent fell across his head and chest, pinning him to the floor. Will glanced at his fallen Captain then at the viewscreen. The two War Birds were crisscrossing around them, harrying and hurling fire at a furious rate.
"Shields are weakening…down to seventy-eight percent!"
Will gritted his teeth.
"Helm get us out of here!"
He felt the ship groan as another rivet pulling turn was executed. As they jumped to warp, he knelt beside his Captain and heaved the vent to one side. Blood covered the Captain's face and he was unconscious.
"Medical emergency on the Bridge! The Captain is injured!"
Beverly was treating a burn victim from Engineering when the call came through. She froze and Doctor Selar appeared at her side. Beverly drew strength from the Vulcan's calm.
"Doctor Crusher I will take control of Sickbay. You go to the Bridge."
She was out the door in an instant, followed by three of her staff. Blanking her mind to the ramifications of the emergency, she concentrated on getting to the scene as quickly as possible. The turbolift doors opened to a dimmed, messy Bridge. Smoke drifted from exploded consoles and crewmembers sat or stood in dazed shock. She saw Will kneeling beside the body of her best friend. Her feet carried her the requisite distance, but she didn't remember how.
Deploying her tricorder, she scanned the unconscious man and sighed as she read the results.
"It's all right Will…he'll be ok."
She took a swab and cleaned the blood from his face as he slowly came around. One of his hands raised to his head and his eyes opened.
"Steady Captain, you've taken a knock to the head. Just lie still and…"
He scowled at the Doctor and grabbed Will's arm.
"Help me up."
"But Captain…"
"I said help me up!"
He stood groggily, one hand holding Will, the other exploring the back of his head.
"Report!"
"We're on the run. Tactical where are they?"
"On our tail Sir. In fact they're powering weapons…Hold on!"
The ship took a direct hit astern, lifting her and shoving her forward violently. Will, Beverly and Jean-Luc pitched forward and fell to their knees. Jean-Luc recovered and staggered over to the helm.
"Execute a reverse barrel roll!"
"Captain? We're at warp five…"
"Do it!"
The Enterprise suddenly heaved up and rolled completely over, the metal shrieking in protest. The occupants were thrown to the floor and another console exploded in a shower of sparks. The pursuing War Birds shot under them and peeled off to port and starboard.
"Quantum torpedoes, full spread! Target and fire!"
The bright green balls of fire chased the enemy, the blossom of explosion staggering both vessels.
"We got them Sir…they're dead in the water."
"Come about and drop to one quarter impulse. Tactical contact Ralok."
"Captain one of the ships is attempting to target us."
"Tactical aim at their weapons and take them out."
"Aye Sir."
As the Enterprise slowly circled her prey, orange energy snaked out and, with great precision, destroyed the weapons of both ships.
"Captain, I have Commander Ralok."
"On screen."
A grinning Romulan appeared.
"That was very entertaining Captain! Well played."
Jean-Luc wiped a thumb across the trickle of blood that ran down his face.
"I would've appreciated a little help Commander."
"I thought you might, but I decided to keep an eye on the ship in the Zone. A third adversary would have…complicated matters."
"Indeed. Well now that you have these two, what now?"
"Actually Captain I would be grateful if you could help us tow them to the Zone. I can't handle both of them, and my help can't cross into your space. I…"
Jean-Luc tiredly held up one hand.
"Say no more Commander. Allow us some time to repair our damage and we'll give you aid. Picard out."
As he turned to survey his Bridge, Beverly came up to him and took his arm.
"I want you in Sickbay Captain."
"Doctor…"
"Captain! You have two head wounds that need closing and I want to do a full neurological workup."
"Beverly I'm fine…just a mild headache. Please let me set things to order here, then I'll come down."
The Doctor was shaking her head vehemently when Jean-Luc squeezed her arm and whispered,
"Beverly…please?"
She looked at him, cast her eyes around her and sighed.
"Dammit Jean-Luc if it was anyone else…"
He mouthed, "Thank you." And she turned to see how her staff was doing with the other injuries around them. Those that needed it were taken to Sickbay; the rest patched up and allowed to stay on duty. Will sidled up to his Captain and muttered,
"You'll pay for that."
Jean-Luc sighed and nodded.
"Tell me about it."

 

 

 

Five hours later a weary, pain hampered Captain strolled into Sickbay. He winced under the bright lights and absently rubbed his temples, flexing his jaw and rolling his right shoulder. Beverly caught his motion and went straight to him.
"Right you…I want you stripped to the waist and on that biobed."
Jean-Luc grimaced and sighed.
"Doctor really…all I have is a headache. It's nothing I can assure you…"
"Yes well you'll forgive me if I reserve my judgement until I do a full scan. Now will you take off your tops and get on the bed?"
Grumbling ineffectively, the Captain gingerly doffed his upper clothing and hitched himself onto the biobed. Beverly's first scan confirmed her suspicions.
"Just a headache? The pain indicator is way up. You must be suffering."
He sniffed and closed his eyes as the hypospray delivered its load of analgesics. As the pain receded he sighed and opened his eyes, garnering a smile for his best friend.
"Better?"
He nodded and pressed along his right collarbone with his fingertips, earning him a slap from the Doctor.
"Stop that! Sit still while I complete the scans."
As she ran the module around his head, Beverly called out to Alyssa Ogawa,
"I need an auto suture and a tissue regenerator. Then set up for a level three neurological scan."
"Aye Doctor."
Jean-Luc bowed his head and sighed, eliciting a scowl from the red head.
"Beverly is all that really necessary? I'm sure it's just a bump."
Still keeping her eyes on the tricorder, she muttered,
"And just where did you obtain your medical degree?"
It was the Captain's turn to scowl. He crossed his arms and tucked in his chin.
"Fine! Have it your way."
He sat still while the gashes on the back of his head and brow were sealed, Then Beverly surprised him by finding some very tender areas on his right upper chest.
"What the hell?"
"Bruising Jean-Luc. When I came onto the Bridge, Will was lifting a nasty looking heavy vent off your head and chest."
She bowed her head and her voice descended into a painful whisper.
"You were just lying there, your face covered in blood…I thought…"
He reached for her hands and sought to assure her.
"Hey…it's all right. You'd have to hit my head harder than that to do any damage."
Anger flashing in her eyes, she pulled away and hissed,
"It's not funny dammit! I thought you were dead! Do you have any idea what that's like? Thinking the one you love has died and you can't do a damn thing about it?"
Taken aback by her vehemence, Jean-Luc could only shake his head.
"I'm sorry Beverly…I'm sorry you were frightened."
She looked away then pinched the bridge of her nose while she composed herself. He waited patiently, knowing she would regain a more professional perspective. When she turned back she was all Doctor.
"Right! Time for the neurological scan. Lie down please Captain."
He hesitated only a second before he complied, a frown marring his features. A special metal halo was placed around his head and he was asked to lie still. It hummed and blinked, the staff concerning themselves with inputting information and reading the results. It took fifteen minutes then he was released to sit up.
He refrained from badgering the Doctor, instead content to let her deal with him in her own time. She disappeared into her office and hovered over the computer there, cross checking some information. It was some minutes later that she rejoined him.
"Well?"
"Bottom line? You got away with it."
He was about to grin smugly when she gripped his arm.
"Jean-Luc you have managed to bruise the surface of the brain…I've dissipated the clot that was forming, but you may have a headache for a few days…nothing we can't handle…but you're not getting off scott free."
He frowned and looked into her eyes.
"Will it interfere with my duties?"
Tilting her head she pursed her lips.
"No…not if we keep the pain under control."
"So I can continue on duty?…no restrictions?"
"No, I think you'll be ok. I'd like you to take the rest of the night off…and yes I know you are reluctant to do that…but the ship's in good hands and I know you would never have come down here if you couldn't be spared. Go to your quarters, shower, eat and go to bed. I'll come by in the morning with a painkiller and we'll take it from there. Ok?"
He considered arguing with her, but he had to admit he was tired. Nodding slowly, he smiled as she handed him his clothes.
"Now put those on before you over heat the females on my staff."
When he was once again dressed he called into her office on his way out.
"Goodnight Beverly. I'll see you in the morning…and thank you."
She waved him away with a chuckle.
"Just do as you're told!"
"Aye Doctor!"

 

 

 

 

As Jean-Luc set the table next morning he paused to rub his right temple. The headache had settled in over night and was present when he woke. He'd showered, shaved and dressed, all the while frowning at the pounding in his head.
The door annunciator was a welcome sound.
"Come."
Beverly breezed in, twirling a hypospray in her fingers.
"Am I just what the Doctor ordered?"
He stood straight and smiled, despite his pain.
"You Beverly would be welcome under any circumstances…but yes, I do require your medical expertise."
She stepped close to him and tugged at the collar of his uniform.
"How bad is it?"
"Oh…bothersome…somewhat distracting."
"Was it there when you woke up?"
"Uh huh. I think the damn thing roused me from a very pleasant dream."
"Oh? Tell me about it."
He laughed outright and flashed a very rakish grin, completely charming the Doctor. He so very rarely let anyone see this side of himself…it made her feel privileged.
"Not on your life!"
"Oh go on Jean-Luc…it's been ages since I've eavesdropped on one of your…interesting dreams."
As soon as she said it, she regretted it. While linked by a psyonic resonator on the planet KesPrytt, the couple had shared thoughts and she'd been witness to one of his more erotic dreams. It was a painful episode for them both, one which they usually avoided talking about.
His smile disappeared and an awkward silence descended. Beverly fiddled with her instrument and Jean-Luc turned to the replicator. The Captain cleared his throat.
"Coffee and croissants?"
Remembering the reference, Beverly winced.
"I'm sorry Jean-Luc."
He turned, a tray of steaming pastries in his hands.
"It's all right Beverly, no harm done. Come on, let's eat."
The silence became companionable as they ate. Amused glances brought smiles and eventually Beverly laughed.
"What a pair we are! We've got sooo much baggage!"
Jean-Luc's good humour faltered and his eyes dropped to his plate. Beverly noticed immediately.
"Jean-Luc?"
He sighed and picked at some crumbs.
"Maybe that's the problem Beverly. Perhaps we should try and forget all the history…all the past regrets and embrace a future unencumbered by our own hesitancy."
The Doctor picked up her coffee and sipped thoughtfully.
"Just plunge in with our eyes closed?"
"No not closed, wide open and joyful."
For the first time she wasn't angry or panicked that the conversation had turned to this and she was shocked to find herself actually considering it.
He saw her thoughtfulness and was encouraged.
"As I said…you can take all the time you need. I won't rush you…but hear me Beverly…neither will I give up."
Her eyes travelled up to his face and she was reassured to see his resolute expression.
"You've given me much to think about Jean-Luc, but I still think we should discuss this when we're more…relaxed. Is that all right with you?"
In response he stood and went to her, taking her hands in his.
"When you want to talk, I'll be here." His deep voice dropped to a whisper.
"I love you Beverly."
She stared up into his eyes and smiled tenderly.
"I know."

 

 

When the Captain strode onto his Bridge it was to find that they had taken one of the damaged ships in tow, the T' Ronne towing the other.
"Report Number One."
"As you can see Captain we're towing the ships back to the Neutral Zone in company with the T' Ronne. ETA…three hours at half impulse. The third bogey has kept a position thirty thousand kilometres inside the Zone and is probably monitoring the operation. Repairs are almost concluded and I've alerted Engineering about better fastenings in the Bridge vents. Oh and Ralok has contacted some of her ships…they'll meet her on their side of the Zone. Apparently they intend on keeping only three ships on patrol. They seem to be content to wait the third bogey out."
Jean-Luc rubbed his lower lip thoughtfully.
"That's if it keeps on their side."
"Do you think they'll attack us? It would be suicide."
The Captain sniffed and scowled.
"They acquitted themselves quite well as I recall. I'm beginning to think Ralok's assessment of their ability may be a little jaundiced."
Will stroked his beard and nodded.
"Those torpedoes were a surprise. We haven't seen them before."
"Indeed. Data what have you been able to learn about those new torpedoes?"
The android turned to his Captain and cocked his head.
"They appear to have a new guidance system that allows them to work both independently and in tandem. Fortunately the combined yield is still relatively small, compared with our quantum torpedoes; otherwise we would have sustained more damage. I would think the size of the unit is its downfall. By the time they fitted the upgraded guidance system, they were restricted in how much matter-anti matter material they could fit in. After all, it has to be small enough to be manoeuvrable."
Jean-Luc considered this and nodded.
"Agreed. Compile a detailed report and submit it for sending to Starfleet. I think they would be eager to learn about this, and include our new information on the early detection of War Birds. That should keep the boffins busy for a while."
"Boffins Sir?"
"Scientists Number One. Same the quadrant over."
Will chuckled and watched as the Captain took his customary seat. Sitting to his right he asked,
"How did you fare in Sickbay Sir?"
Jean-Luc sighed, a wry smile on his face.
"Beverly fussed, I endured."
The big man grinned, a twinkle in his blue eyes.
"Yes Sir."

 

 

 

 

The day wore on, and the hours passed slowly. The hand over to the other Romulan ships went without incident, Jean-Luc pleased to be rid of the threat. As long as the third ship stayed on its side of the Zone, they could patrol in peace. Towards the afternoon the headache returned and slowly grew in intensity until he was about to summon Beverly. To his immense relief she arrived on the Bridge and they entered the Ready Room together.
"You look like hell."
"Thank you Doctor. If you would be so kind as to administer the analgesic, I would be eternally grateful."
The Doctor sighed and injected him, then guided him to the sofa. He began to protest.
"Doctor I have to…"
"I know…you've got very important work to do, but I'm sure you can take five minutes to relax and enjoy the cessation of pain."
His mouth snapped shut and he closed his eyes.
"She's right…what a blessed relief!"
She watched him carefully; completely convinced he was going to remonstrate with her. To her surprise, he allowed a smile to emerge instead.
"Well I didn't expect that!"
He chuckled and took her hands.
"Thank you Beverly…you're absolutely right…it feels bloody marvellous."
Her own laughter echoed through the room, but she soon frowned.
"Why did you let it get so bad?"
He pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head.
"Oh I was busy…head first into a report to headquarters. I thought if we could convince them that the Romulan threat was over, then they might release us from this damn patrol and return us to more interesting duty."
She squinted and pressed her lips together.
"Is the threat over?"
He sighed and lowered his head.
"Truth? I'm not certain. There's something about that third ship…it's not behaving as if its either hunted or manned by inexperienced crew. I suppose all will be revealed over the next few days, but as to what that might be…"
He shrugged his shoulders and went to the replicator.
"Tea, Earl Grey hot and chamomile tea, hot."
The beverages appeared and he took them to the sofa, handing Beverly hers. He sipped thoughtfully and closed his eyes as he savoured the fragrant brew. Beverly watched this familiar ritual and felt comforted by it.
"Tell me Jean-Luc…just how long have you drunk Earl Grey?"
The question caught him off guard. His eyebrows rose and he shook his head.
"Oh good heavens…years. My Maman would give it to me whenever she thought I needed a pick-me-up. I learned at an early age there's very little that can't be sorted out without the help of a good hot cup of tea."
Beverly chuckled and sipped her own tea.
"Your Mother sounds like a wise woman."
Jean-Luc sighed, an expression of sadness crossing his eyes.
"She needed to be. Robert and I gave her nothing but trouble…we fought constantly, over anything and more often than not she was the meat in the sandwich. She also stood between me and my father…protected me as best she could from his disdain. I don't know how she did it."
"You were very close."
He nodded, his voice taking on a tender timbre.
"Oh yes. It must have hurt her deeply when I left for the Academy. Robert always sided with Father. Once I was gone…she was, to all intents and purposes, alone. I could tell by the letters she sent that she was missing me terribly, but I ignored it and pursued my dream anyway." He shook his head, his voice but a whisper.
"So selfish."
Beverly took his hand and squeezed it.
"You know what I think? I think she was immensely proud of her young son…she loved you enough to let you go. Some mothers can't do that."
He sniffed and looked into her sapphire eyes.
"Like you let Wesley go?"
She smiled lopsidedly, tears filling her eyes.
"Uh huh."
"Have you heard from him at all?"
Sadly shaking her head, she didn't trust her voice.
His arm went around her shoulders and her head settled onto his chest. They sat back and drank their tea, each lost in their own thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four days later Jean-Luc was back to full good health. The headaches had disappeared and he felt fine. Adequate sleep and nourishing meals, albeit at Beverly's insistence, had even replaced some of the weight he'd lost. They continued their patrol and their shadow stayed within their sensor range.
Late in the shift, Will swore softly under his breath, making his Captain's eyebrow arch.
"Number One?"
Will huffed and rubbed his hands over his thighs.
"What the hell are they doing? They follow our movements up and down the border and their own ships do nothing. I don't get it! What are they waiting for…an invitation?"
Jean-Luc frowned at his younger Commander, mildly annoyed by his outburst.
"Patience Number One. There's nothing to be gained by becoming agitated, we just have to do our job and wait."
The First officer gestured with his hand, making a wide sweep at the viewscreen.
"But Captain doesn't it get to you? Doesn't it drive you nuts trying to figure out what the other guy's thinking?"
"If I allowed myself to be overly disturbed every time we encounter some…tension…I would be an ineffective Commander! You must learn to use the stress productively. Utilise your mind."
Snorting, Will ran his hands over his face.
"Sorry captain, you're right. Of all the things we have to do, I find waiting the hardest."
"Do tell? Will it's almost shift's end. Why don't you go down to the holodeck and work off some of that built up tension. Batter an ambo-jitsu opponent, or swim a few laps. Get it out of your system."
Will stood and looked down at his friend nodding.
"And you Captain? What will you do?"
Jean-Luc stretched out his legs and crossed his ankles.
"Tonight I will fence with a holodeck opponent until I can't keep my arm up, then I will retire to my quarters, shower, eat, relax with a good book and probably find myself asleep on the sofa…again."
Unbeknownst to the two men, Beverly had come up to the Bridge and had caught the end of Jean-Luc's sentence.
"You better not be sleeping on the sofa! I gave you strict instructions…"
"Which I've obeyed to the letter! I was just telling Will how I intended to unwind tonight."
Beverly's eyebrows rose in question and Will supplied,
"Fencing, shower, eat, good book and sleep…preferably in bed."
The Doctor laughed and shook her head, making her lustrous hair dance.
"Well come on sailor, I'll walk you to your quarters."
Jean-Luc stood and winked at his First Officer.
"It would appear my shift has ended. Please see that the change over takes effect smoothly."
"Aye Captain."
Beverly slipped her arm through Jean-Luc's once in the privacy of the lift. They parted when it stopped and she followed him into his cabin.
"Jean-Luc…I have a request."
"Yes?"
She swept her toe across the carpet and clasped her hands behind her back.
"Would you let me watch you fence?"
He frowned and faltered.
"Ah…it's not very…I think you'd be bored."
She stepped closer and ran her finger down his chest.
"Please?"
Completely charmed by her manner, he acquiesced.
"Well…all right, if you wish."
She grinned brightly and planted a kiss on his cheek.
"Thank you."
He sniffed and gestured to his bedroom.
"I'll just go and get changed…I won't be long."
"Ok."
He was gone ten minutes and when she heard his door open she turned and ran her eyes over him. Dressed in white fencing gear, he was a dashing figure and her appraisal was a leisurely one, making him blush. As they left, he picked up a long wooden case and Beverly made sure she dropped back to admire his behind as he walked.
They arrived at holodeck four and Jean-Luc called up his programme. Entering, Beverly was intrigued to find herself in a bright room, unadorned except for a broad strip that ran across the floor. Jean-Luc placed the case on a bench and opened it, withdrawing a foil, which he wiped with an oiled cloth.
"Computer supply opponent, level eight."
A white clad figure appeared at one end of the strip and Beverly took a seat as Jean-Luc walked to the opposite end and flexed his foil. He placed a meshed helmet over his head and adopted the classic position.
"En garde!"
His opponent approached slowly, gently circling the tip of his foil. Jean-Luc watched him with a hawk-like intensity, his legs apart and his body balanced beautifully. When the attack came, he was ready for it. The foils clashed with blinding speed, the occasional spark sizzling off into the air. Back and forth the competitors fought, first one, then the other gaining the upper hand. The opponent sidestepped and whipped his arm around, but not fast enough. Jean-Luc's foil stabbed upwards catching the opponent straight in the chest. They immediately parted and saluted each other. Moving back to their starting positions, they again adopted the stance.
"Come again! En garde!"
This time the duels were quite protracted. The opponent favoured quick forays, thrusting and parrying, trying to get the elusive opening where he could score a hit. Jean-Luc would not be drawn. He fought his own battle, eventually scoring the hit he wanted when his opponent tried to run him back off the strip. They saluted each other in the traditional way and Jean-Luc slipped off his helmet. Dripping with sweat, he walked to Beverly and accepted the towel she offered.
"I had no idea it was so intense! God you get a real work out."
Regaining a regular rhythm to his breathing, the Captain nodded.
"Oh yes. I find that it keeps me in trim."
"How high do the levels go?
"Twelve is my limit but they go to fifteen."
"So you're pretty good then? Wow Jean-Luc…I'm impressed."
He lowered his head, but not before Beverly saw the stain of a blush.
"Well I'd better get to it."
He took up his position and donned his helmet. Swishing his foil from side to side, his commanding baritone rang out.
"En garde!"

 

 

 

 

An hour and a half later they were walking slowly to his quarters. His arms and legs felt like lead, but he was happy, pleased and proud that Beverly had asked to watch him fence. The doors sighed open and she pushed him gently towards his bedroom.
"You go shower and I'll call up dinner."
Nodding seemed to be the best thing to do as he ordered his feet to take him forward. He took the time to savour the hot shower, his protesting muscles appreciating the soothing warmth. He dressed in sleep shorts and robe and padded out into the living area barefoot.
Beverly was seated at the table and graced him with one of her warmest smiles.
"Come on Jean-Luc. Come and eat before you fall asleep."
He smiled ruefully and took his seat.
"Is it that obvious?"
She chuckled and rubbed her nose, the gesture enthralling him.
"You must be exhausted. I'm quite sure you over did just to impress me…but I do appreciate it. You were magnificent."
He flushed and turned his attention to dinner.
"Yes well…this looks delicious. Shall we?"
They ate well, conversation sporadic, eye contact saying that which their mouths didn't dare. When they finished they shared the task of disposing of the dishes and retired to the sofa, a glass of wine in hand.
"So…do you think you'll need a book tonight."
His wry chuckle delighted her.
"Oh no. I think I will be asleep before my head hits the pillow."
She sighed and took the time to study his face.
"Such a handsome man…so noble…his eyes…so expressive."
He noticed her inspection and concentrated on his hands, vaguely embarrassed.
Her question caught him off guard.
"Will you be sore tomorrow?"
"What? Oh perhaps a little stiff. A hot shower should work wonders."
"I should let you get to bed."
He frowned and shook his head.
"Don't go Beverly."
She smiled and stroked his cheek.
"It's best."
He sniffed.
"For whom?"
She stood and held out her hands. He rose and took them in his, gently drawing her to him. Their lips met in a soft kiss and he watched as her eyes drifted closed. They parted and they both sighed. She stepped past him and walked to the door, pausing just shy of the sensor.
"Goodnight my love."
He swallowed and found his voice.
"Goodnight Beverly…my heart."
The doors opened, the light spilling in, and then she was gone.
He whispered to himself,
"My love."

 

 

 

 

He was indeed sore when he awoke the next morning. Attempting to stretch in bed, he winced and groaned.
"That will teach you to show off Johnny boy!"
He rose stiffly and took longer than usual in the shower. He'd just finished shaving when the alert sounded.
"Red alert! Captain to the Bridge!"
Hastily donning his uniform, Jean-Luc raced to the Bridge and called out as he strode to his seat,
"Report!"
"Our contact has entered our space Captain. It is approaching de-cloaked at half impulse."
"ETA?"
"Eight minutes Sir."
"And the other ships?"
"They are pursuing Captain."
Jean-Luc stood and spun to face Tactical.
"Hail the pursuing ships!"
"Aye Sir."
Tense seconds passed.
"They're not responding Sir."
"Very well, transmit this message. You are not, repeat not permitted to enter Federation
space. To do so will be taken as an aggressive act and I will act accordingly."
He waited, an eyebrow cocked at the Lieutenant manning Tactical.
"They received it Sir…but they're not responding."
"Indeed. Lieutenant…"
"Captain incoming message from the approaching ship!"
"On screen."
The viewscreen shimmered and resolved into the image of a known adversary.
"Tomalak!"
"Greetings Picard. Before you say anything, I must let you know…I wish to ask for asylum, for my ship and my crew."
Jean-Luc's artificial heart missed a beat, an impossibility, but it happened nonetheless.
"You what?"
"Quickly Picard…I formally request political asylum for myself, my crew and my ship!"
The Captain shook his head.
"Helm come to a dead stop and extend our shields around the Romulan vessel when it's close enough."
"Aye Sir."
"Tactical what are the pursuing ships doing?"
"They have halted at the border Sir. We are being hailed."
Jean-Luc turned to the Romulan on the screen.
"If you will excuse me?"
"Of course Captain."
Placing his hands behind his back, Jean-Luc straightened his spine.
"On screen."
The Romulan Commander that faced him was clearly angry.
"What do you think you're doing Picard? Hand over that deserter immediately!"
Jean-Luc bowed his head and let the anger wash over him. Lifting his chin, he fixed the Romulan with a steely glare.
"Commander Tomalak has requested political asylum."
"What of it? He is a dissident…a malcontent bent on bringing trouble to the Empire. I demand you hand him over!"
The Captain sighed and offered a grim smile.
"You will find your demands carry little weight with me. I will discuss the situation with Tomalak and I will get back to you. In the meantime…do not cross into Federation space. Picard out."
Will stood and stroked his beard.
"An interesting situation Captain. What are you going to do?"
Jean-Luc sighed and shook his head.
"As I said Number One, I will discuss this with Tomalak. Tactical, hail the ship within our shields."
"Aye Sir."
Tomalak peered at Jean-Luc, his expression one of anticipation. The Captain tilted his head.
"You realise the position you've put me in?"
The Romulan shrugged and cast his eyes down.
"I did what I had to do Captain. I have my crew to think of…surely you would've done the same?"
"I don't know what I would've done Tomalak…I don't know what you do."
The Romulan grinned and shifted in his seat.
"Agreed, but can you refuse me?"
Jean-Luc clasped his hands behind his back and paced across the Bridge, deep in thought.
Looking up, he made his decision.
"Come aboard Tomalak. We will discuss this face to face."
The Commander nodded and stroked his chin.
"Very well Captain. I will join you shortly."
The Captain turned to his First Officer.
"Have security greet him in the Transporter Room and escort him to the Forward Observation Lounge. Keep him occupied, I need to talk to Headquarters."
"Yes Captain."

 

 

 

 

Will stood watching the door expectantly. When it whispered open, he schooled his features into a passive expression and gestured his visitor to take a seat.
"Please make yourself comfortable Commander, Captain Picard will join us shortly." Casting a glance at the security detail, the three officers took up position outside the doors. Will turned again to his guest.
"Would you care for a drink?"
Smiling, Tomalak shook his head.
"No thank you Commander…Riker isn't it? I seem to remember you from our last…meeting."
"Yes Sir. I am Commander William Riker, the First Officer."
"Ah yes…Picard's right hand. Tell me…is your dear Captain contacting his superiors?"
Will frowned and took a seat facing his guest.
"It would be inappropriate for me to conjecture Commander. What the Captain does is his business."
The Romulan grinned and meshed his fingers across his chest.
"As it should be Commander! A Captain commands, he does not vacillate."
Will summoned a smile and a nod. There was a moment's silence before Tomalak asked,
"Is your ship fully operational after the recent battle?"
Will's eyebrows rose, as did is hackles.
"We're fully operational Commander, you needn't concern yourself about our capabilities."
"Oh I don't doubt it Riker…it's just that my countrymen may not take your Captain's advice. Are you prepared to engage three War Birds at once?"
Flashing a broad grin, Will unsettled his guest by sitting back in his chair and relaxing.
"Oh I think we'll do all right."
The Romulan Commander was about to reply when the doors opened and the Captain strode in. Tomalak stood and extended his right hand.
"I believe this is the appropriate greeting?"
Jean-Luc nodded, grasping the hand and giving it a firm shake.
"Indeed it is. Please…shall we sit?"
The men sat and Jean-Luc pressed some buttons on a recessed area of the tabletop. In a shimmer of light a three dimensional image of their situation coalesced in the air above the table. The Enterprise and her charge were represented, as was the border and the three stationary ships waiting there. Jean-Luc pointed at the waiting ships.
"Who are they? Who do they represent?"
Tomalak scowled and sniffed.
"Their names are irrelevant, but suffice to say…those Commanders are adhering to their own agenda. They want me to join them in an attempt to overthrow the government. They believe if I join them, the other Commanders will follow."
Jean-Luc rubbed his fingers over his lower lip.
"And you don't want to?"
"No Picard I don't! Our home world has undergone one turmoil after another. We finally found some stability and things looked like they might just be working when nine of the upper houses decided to plan a coup. It fractured the fleet along filial lines and the government sits on a precarious edge while we Commanders sort out their allegiances."
Jean-Luc's dark eyes glittered as he watched his guest.
"And what of Ralok? Where do her allegiances lie?"
Tomalak snorted.
"Her only concern was to remove her two nephews from the conflict. They commanded the two War Birds that attacked you. As far as I know she's a fence sitter. She, and her relatives will follow whoever has the upper hand."
"So those three ships have been waiting for you to show your hand?"
"Yes Captain. I was contacted eight days ago and given an ultimatum…join them, or be destroyed. I played for time and made my escape when I thought the time was right."
The Captain crossed his legs and folded his arms.
"Tell me Tomalak…what do you think the Federation is going to do? Surely you know we cannot…we will not interfere in the internal politics of another world?"
The Romulan sighed and bowed his head.
"I'm hoping Captain, that my action will tip the hand of the uncommitted Commanders. If they see how desperate I am…desperate enough to request asylum from a known enemy…maybe they will see things my way."
"And if they don't? What then?"
The Romulan Commander looked up, defiance burning in his eyes.
"Then I will have sacrificed much to gain nothing. My life will be over."
Silence settled as the men considered his words. Jean-Luc stood and looked down at his adversary.
"Well I for one hope your gesture was not in vain. While we cannot interfere in your politics, we can offer you our protection as long as you're in our space. Return to you ship Commander, we will talk again soon."
The tall Romulan stood and gave a curt bow of his head.
"Thank you Captain."
Nodding to his First Officer, Jean-Luc watched as the men left. He then focussed his eyes on the image of the deadly green War Bird that sat within the Enterprise's shields. He stood alone for a long time.

 

 

 

 

 

When Jean-Luc strode into the Command Centre the Bridge crew heightened their senses. With the Captain in attendance things could become quite interesting…very quickly. He stood before the viewscreen, his face devoid of emotion. In a quiet deep voice he ordered,
"Tactical open a channel to the waiting War Birds."
"Aye Sir."
The Romulan Commander was still angry.
"It's about time Picard! I will not be treated in this way! How dare you take this action against us…an action clearly belligerent and provocative and one that my government will…"
The Captain held up one hand and smiled grimly.
"Commander…please. We both know your government knows nothing of what occurs here and, judging by what I've learned, would care even less. They're struggling for their own survival. This…tension between us is irrelevant. All I need to know is what are your intentions? Will you stay on your side of the Neutral Zone or will you risk an interstellar incident by encroaching into our space?"
"It's none of your business what I intend Picard! My sole concern is the capture of the deserter and I will do anything in my power to bring him back."
Jean-Luc pursed his lips and lowered his head in thought. Seeming to study his boots, he waited until the Romulan subsided.
"Commander we both know your planet could not sustain another war, but if you cross that border that's just what might happen. Are you willing to plunge your planet into conflict over one man…one ship?"
His adversary left his chair and prowled around his Bridge, his hands cutting the air.
"There's more to it Picard…and you know that damn well! Tomalak is a revered figure on my planet…he has many friends in the Empire…powerful friends…and those friends will support whatever he chooses to do. He must return with me!"
Jean-Luc sighed and spread his hands before him.
"But surely you must realise my hands are tied! Tomalak has requested asylum…I cannot turn him away."
The Commander turned to face the screen, his eyes hard.
"Then be prepared for battle Picard!"
The screen went blank and the Captain scowled. He slowly turned to his First Officer and shook his head.
"Assemble a scientific away team Number One. If we have to fight for this prize, we might as well lean all we can from it. Tactical hail Tomalak."
"Aye Captain."
The Commander was beginning to look a little tired. He faced the screen, sitting in his chair and sighed."
"Yes Captain?"
"Tomalak I am sending over a scientific team to study your vessel. Please afford them every courtesy."
The Romulan jerked upright and glared at Jean-Luc.
"You're what!? You can't!"
The Captain's eyebrows rose and his voice took on an amused tone.
"I assure you I can Commander. You have requested asylum and I have granted it. You, your crew and your ship are now under my protection and part of that protection is that I satisfy myself that you pose no threat. To that end, my away team will study your vessel and report what they find to me."
The Romulan was reduced to spluttering.
"But that's blackmail! All you want is to discover my ship's technology…what will you do then? Hand us over to my enemies?"
Jean-Luc's face hardened and he stepped closer to the screen.
"Listen to me Tomalak! Those three ships have threatened me with violence if I don't give you up. If I'm to go into battle to protect you, then I will want something to fight for! Make up your mind Commander…do you require asylum or not?"
Tomalak slammed his hands down on the armrests, glaring at the Captain.
"Bastard!"
Jean-Luc smiled and cocked his head.
"Possibly…but a steadfast one Tomalak, and one loyal to the Federation. Picard out."
The Captain turned to the rear of the Bridge and tugged down on his jacket.
"Tactical keep a wary eye on those ships. Any movement…you shout. Clear?"
"Aye Captain!"

The away team had been aboard the War Bird for four hours when the Ensign gasped over her console.
"Captain the three ships…they're on the move!"
"Where are they going?"
"They're…dammit they've cloaked Sir. They were heading straight for us but at this range I've lost them."
Jean-Luc stood and lifted his head.
"Picard to Engineering."
"Engineering here Captain."
Jean-Luc frowned and asked,
"To whom am I speaking?"
"Lieutenant Emmon Sir. Commander LaForge is on the War Bird."
"Very well. I want you to instigate the new protocols for detection of cloaked Romulan ships. Best speed Lieutenant!"
"Yes Sir."
Jean-Luc then tapped his communicator.
"Picard to Riker."
"Riker here Captain."
"Will we are expecting visitors and they appear to be angry. Gather your team and return immediately."
"Aye Captain."
"Tactical hail Tomalak."
There was a wait of a moment or two before the Romulan appeared.
"What do you want?"
"Commander the waiting ships have cloaked and are heading this way. What is the status of you shields?"
"Fully operational."
"Good. We will move off and engage them. Stay here with your shields at full intensity."
Tomalak raised his chin and appraised the Captain.
"You intend to take on three War Birds? To protect us?"
With implacable calm, Jean-Luc answered his counterpart.
"Yes I do."
The Romulan's laugh was harsh.
"You're mad! They will destroy you."
Jean-Luc sighed and frowned.
"I must do what I must Tomalak. I can only hope you understand the sacrifice my crew is willing to make for you."
The Commander looked on, speechless.
"Picard out."
"Bridge this is Transporter Room three. Away team is aboard."
"Thank you, Bridge out."
Within minutes Will strode onto the Bridge and joined his Captain.
Jean-Luc said quietly,
"Helm move us six thousand kilometres to starboard of the War Bird. Tactical arm phasers and load all torpedo tubes with both photon and quantum torpedoes. Engineering divert all power to the shields."
A chorus of "Aye Sir" was muttered around the Bridge. Jean-Luc calmly took his seat and checked his display of his ship's readiness.
"Well Number One, it seems we will be in for a little fisticuffs."
Will's sardonic chuckle was loud in the quiet area.
"You call going toe to toe with three War Birds...a little fisticuffs?"
The Captain shrugged and smiled, tilting his head.
"Whatever it is it will be, no doubt, unpleasant."
Will nodded and was about to respond when the tight voice of the Tactical Ensign broke through.
"Contacts! A group of three ships…fifteen hundred kilometres and closing. Wait…they're splitting up…one is on a direct heading for us, one is climbing above us and the third is diving below our current position."
"ETA?"
"Seven minutes Sir."
"Right. Helm move us off on an intercept course with the vessel coming straight for us, one-quarter impulse. Tactical…"
"Captain they're firing!"
"Evasive manoeuvres!"
The great ship slewed from side to side as the missiles honed in on her. As before, the torpedoes acted in tandem and exploded under the saucer section with disturbing results. The Enterprise was shaken and skidded off her axis, momentarily blinded.
Jean-Luc picked himself up from the deck and shouted,
"Target that vessel and fire!"
With no time to respond to her Captain, the Ensign stabbed her fingers over the console. Blazing red beams arced out from the ship, followed by a multiple spread of torpedoes.
"Direct hits! Their shields have…Captain! The other ships are…"
The Enterprise shuddered as several blasts raged against her shields. Several consoles exploded and one crewman was blown backwards, his head cleaved by a shard of metal.
The Captain grimly held on as his ship executed gut wrenching turns, spitting phasers and torpedoes as she went.
"Forward shields down to 48%! Aft shields buckling!"
Jean-Luc brushed some charred material from his head and coughed in the smoky atmosphere.
"Come about to heading 1.83, mark 3.95! As both ships cross, concentrate our fire!"
"Aye…"
Another explosion rocked the Enterprise and the deck beneath their feet heaved. Will was thrown across the room and Jean-Luc found himself tangled up against the Con pedestal. Wiping at the blood that flowed down his face, the Captain staggered back to his seat and gripped the armrest. Looking up at tactical he saw the Ensign lying unconscious on the floor. Quickly he rounded the station and wiped the ciders from the console. With stiff fingers, he entered instructions to the weapons while shouting at Helm,
"Keep them in front of us if you can! I'll operate weapons."
The frightened Lieutenant at Helm gasped in pain as her burnt fingers pressed the console. Through the smoke a large figure loomed and she was gratified to see Will bend over her to help. He called up a tactical display on the viewscreen and brought the Enterprise about in a sickeningly tight turn.
"Now Captain!"
Jean-Luc slammed his fist down on the console and unleashed a deadly volley of phaser fire and torpedoes. One of the Romulan ships shuddered and glowed before disintegrating into dust as a catastrophic explosion engulfed her. The two remaining ships turned in a wide arc, one of them sustaining significant damage as the Enterprise's barrage hit home. It came to a stuttering stop; it's lights going out. The last ship rolled over and came swooping down, all guns blazing. The Enterprise was strafed from bow to stern, the shields collapsing and hull breaches occurring throughout many decks. Now dead in the water, the mighty ship struggled to defend herself. Again thrown onto the floor by the power of the blasts, Jean-Luc got to his knees and shook his head to clear it.
"Engineering!"
Static hissed as sparks rained down from the ceiling. Will crawled to his Captain, cradling an obviously broken right arm.
"We've lost helm control and engines seem to be off line!"
Jean-Luc nodded and spat out some blood.
"I'll get up to Tactical."
Will nodded and pulled himself up into the Helm chair, frowning as he tried to activate the dead console.
The Captain faced the Tactical console and saw, with some relief, that they could still target and fire, although their supply of torpedoes was severely depleted and only the forward phasers were functioning. The enemy ship approached cautiously, their shields dangerously low. The loosened two blasts of green phaser fire and, when the Enterprise didn't respond, they crept nearer.
"Come on you bastards…just a little closer…"
The Captain gritted his teeth as he noted the War Bird preparing to fire torpedoes. He jammed his finger down and fired the last of his torpedoes, the forward phasers reaching out and cutting through the weak shields.
One wing of the War Bird shattered into pieces, the ship skewing to port and venting plasma. Great chunks of metal stuck the defenceless Enterprise, pushing her violently about. Jean-Luc was tossed off his feet and over the back of his chair. He felt his ribs snap and wheezed painfully as he hit the floor. There followed several minutes of eerie silence. Will left his post at Helm and staggered to his Captain, sitting with him on the deck. He summoned a wry smile and asked,
"Well Captain…did we win?"
Holding his ribs, Jean-Luc sat up and shook his head.
"Damned if I know Number One. Let's see if we can get the viewscreen working and we'll have a look."
The two men, bent over by their injuries, moved about the Bridge slowly, helping crew and noting the dead. Twenty-five minutes later, a scratchy link was made from Engineering.
"Bridge? Is anyone up there?"
Jean-Luc smiled tiredly and replied,
"Yes Geordi, we're still here. How are we?"
"We'll live Captain…but it's going to take a while before we're able to move."
"Understood Commander. Can you tell the condition of our adversaries?"
"Yes Sir. One destroyed, one dead in the water and one partially destroyed."
"Very good Geordi. Thank you, Picard out."
The Captain turned to his First Officer and gently clasped his shoulder.
"Will get yourself down to Sickbay. I'll take care of things up here."
The big man shook his head, the action making him dizzy.
"No way captain! You have a head wound…burns…and judging by the way you're holding your chest, probably broken ribs. I saw your catapult over the chair…very impressive, but not conducive to good health."
Jean-Luc tried to glare but failed. Instead he grimaced and tried flexed his broken wrist.
"I'm not going to argue with you Commander, my order stands. Report to Sickbay and return as soon as you can. Understood?"
Will sighed in defeat and ran a hand through his hair.
"Aye Captain."
He moved slowly up to the turbolift and had to jemmy the doors open with his fingers. His last sight was of his Captain standing forlornly on his ruined Bridge.

 

 

 

Will returned to the Bridge within the hour, his face a mask of concern. In his absence, the Captain had moved the dead to one side and restored the viewscreen to a semblance of working order. Through the hazy image, they could see two War Birds, one obviously terminally disabled, the other with partial lighting, still unmoving in space.
Jean-Luc was attempting to establish communications when Will came to his side.
"Glad you're back Will. How are you?"
"I'm fine Sir, but Captain…Sickbay took a lot of damage. There was a rupture in one of the plasma conduits…it blew out one wall and injured some crew. Beverly was one of those hurt."
Jean-Luc spun around and gripped Will's arm.
"Is she all right?"
"Yes Sir. She broke a leg and suffered some pretty nasty burns, but she's been treated and when I left she was starting to treat patients again. They have turned Cargo Bay four into a makeshift hospital, at least for the more badly injured crew."
Jean-Luc absorbed the information and asked that which he dreaded.
"How many Will? How many did we lose?"
"As far as we can tell, twenty seven. There are nine critical cases…it's too soon to tell yet if they'll make it. Beverly wants you to come down…"
The Captain squeezed Will's shoulder and shook his head.
"Later Number One. Engineering has restored life support to all decks and we're at present trying to re-establish communications. I'd like to see if we can get the impulse engines back on line…that War Bird may just take a pot shot at us if they get their ship back up before us. It would be beneficial if we could move ourselves out of the area before that happens."
Will nodded and gave the console an experimental poke. He was rewarded with an irritating buzz of non-activity. Sighing, the big man turned as an Ensign approached with a query. While Will was busy, Jean-Luc called Engineering and spoke with Geordi.
"How long until we can transmit?"
"We're working on it Captain…maybe an hour?"
"Understood Geordi. What about shields and weapons? We're still facing an enemy that could cause us concern."
"I'm on it Sir. Shields should be partially restored in about half an hour. We have forward phasers, but only at 70% strength. We have no torpedoes left."
"And the warp core?"
"She's cold Captain, but that kind of works in our favour. I think we can re-initiate it in about three hours. The structural integrity field is holding but there's a lot of damage Captain…we're going to need a space dock ASAP."
"Very well Commander. Keep at it; your efforts are greatly appreciated. Picard out."
Jean-Luc studied the console in front of him and, with little hope it would work, instructed the view on the screen to shift to port. To his surprise, the scene slowly shifted and he stopped it at his predetermined spot. Requesting magnification, he snarled and punched the top of the console. Will noticed his Captain's anger and looked up, a scowl settling on his face. Shaking his head, Jean-Luc prowled around to stand before the murky image on the screen.
"Those duplicitous bastards!"
Three War Birds surrounded Tomalak's vessel in a protective phalanx. Will snorted and muttered,
"You'd thing they'd render assistance to their fellow ships."
"Not those snakes! They probably enjoyed the show. Engineering, can we transmit yet?"
"You can try Captain, but it won't be a very strong signal."
Jean-Luc grimaced and shook his head. To Will he sighed,
"We're not going to transmit very far…only about six thousand kilometres."
Pressing the requisite buttons, Jean-Luc hailed Tomalak.
Unable to establish a video link, the Romulan's voice filtered through the static laden speakers.
"Picard! I'm glad you made it."
"Indeed? I trust you enjoyed the spectacle?"
There was a moment's silence before the Commander responded.
"Your ship fought well Picard, I for one am grateful for your sacrifice."
Jean-Luc sniffed.
"So grateful that you're entertaining friends in our space?"
"I can assure you Captain…"
"Your assurances would be better received if your fellow ships would return to their side of the Neutral Zone…immediately."
More silence ensued. The Captain was about to query his fellow Commander when the speakers crackled to life.
"I must take my leave of you Captain. It has been made apparent that my presence is required by the government. My good friend Ralok and her nephews will escort me home…after they take off the crew of the disabled War Bird and take the remaining ship and the derelict under tow. I will make sure my government knows what you did here today; you have the gratitude of my people. Thank you Captain."
The speakers went silent and Jean-Luc closed his eyes, his injured ribs preventing him from taking a relieving sigh. Will slammed his fist down on the console.
"All that…everything we went through…for what? So those bastards can play politics? Shit!"
Having quelled his own anger, Jean-Luc patted his friend's shoulder.
"Let it go Will, they're not worth it…after all it's not as if we've not been deceived by them before."
Geordi's voice filtered through.
"Captain I can boost the signal now. You can contact Starfleet any time you want."
The Captain summoned a smile and looked at his Ready Room doors, hanging askew and giving a glimpse into the devastated interior.
"Geordi I'll make the call from the Tactical station. Shields and weapons are no longer a priority; divert your resources to getting us under way."
"Aye Captain."
Over the next eight hours, the crew struggled to bring order to the wounded ship. Gradually the myriad of systems came back on line and the mighty ship slowly began to limp her way to a rendezvous with a tug, sent to help them reach the nearest space dock.
Beverly had called four times, requesting Jean-Luc come down to the Cargo Bay for treatment but he refused. When she eventually arrived on the Bridge, she was carrying a hypospray. The Captain's eyes narrowed as he peered suspiciously at the instrument.
"What's that for?"
"Not what…who? It's for you Captain. Your injuries should be quite painful by now."
In exasperation, he slid his hand over his bald head, wincing as the action provoked pain in his chest and wrist. Beverly stepped up to him, tugged open the unzipped tunic and injected him in his neck. He closed his eyes and let his tense shoulders sag.
"Now Captain, you will accompany me to Sick Bay."
His mouth opened to protest, but Will stepped in.
"Go captain. There's nothing more to do."
Snapping his mouth shut, Jean-Luc gathered his dignity around him and straightened his back. With his head held high, he left the Bridge, Beverly in tow.

 

 

 

 

 

"That must hurt."
Beverly was gently holding the swollen broken wrist as she guided an osteo-regenerator over the joint. His head wound had been healed and the broken ribs fused. The burns had responded well to regeneration and, apart from fatigue and hunger, the wrist was the last thing to be seen to.
"How did you ignore the pain?"
Jean-Luc rubbed his free hand over his face, frowning at the stubble he found there.
"With so much going on…it didn't seem important. I just shoved it aside."
The Doctor shook her head and glanced up at her friend.
"You're exhausted."
"No more than anyone else. Beverly…Will told me you were injured. Are you all right?"
She sighed and turned his hand over, applying the re-generator to the underside.
"It was a bit scary there for a while. When the conduit blew, it tore a biobed from its base and sent it flying across the room. It caught me across the shins and promptly broke my right leg. I was furious at first that was until the pain kicked in. Alyssa got me some analgesic and pretty soon I was taken to the Cargo Bay and treated."
"Will said you were burned?"
"Oh yes…nothing major. The plasma splattered everywhere, I don't think anyone here was spared."
Jean-Luc looked around Sick Bay and sighed.
"Maintenance has done a good job repairing the wall."
Beverly smiled and switched off the re-generator.
"Yes, Engineering made it a priority. They re-routed the conduit…I think Geordi and his staff are capable of performing miracles."
The Captain chuckled and took her hands in his.
"Have you eaten?"
She shook her head, but frowned.
"No, but I have patients Jean-Luc...some of them critical. I can't leave them."
Jean-Luc raised his head and looked around, seeking Selar. Having made eye contact with the Vulcan Doctor, he beckoned her over.
"Doctor Selar Your CMO is in need of both a meal and rest. Are you and your staff capable of carrying on without her for some hours?"
"Yes Captain. Everything is under control…there is nothing that requires Doctor Crusher's personal attention."
He turned his gaze to Beverly and raised an eyebrow.
"Well? I'll eat and rest if you do."
"That's blackmail!"
Jean-Luc chuckled.
"You know…you're the second person that's accused me of that lately. What's it to be Doctor?"
Beverly irritably brushed her hair back and tried to glare at Jean-Luc. His gentle grin completely disarmed her. Snorting, she lowered her head.
"Oh all right! Come on, let's get out of here."
The two friends tried to ignore the damage as they walked through the corridors to his quarters. Jean-Luc approached his door and it stuttered open. He stepped in and sighed at the disarray he found. Most of his artefacts and curios were spilled onto the floor. The floral arrangements around the cabin were in ruins and his bookshelf had disgorged its contents. Fortunately little seemed to be broken. The officers spent half an hour restoring order before Jean-Luc began experimenting with the replicator. Not all food was available, but he soon had a tasty meal on the now upright table. They sat tiredly and ate mechanically, hardly tasting the food. When the Captain ushered Beverly into his bedroom, she was surprised.
"Jean-Luc?"
"Your quarters will be as messy as mine was and neither of us is awake enough to clean it up. Sleep here Beverly. You make yourself comfortable and I'll get us a nightcap."
At first shocked and concerned, Beverly chose not to argue. He was right. She was desperately tired, as was he, and she knew he would be a gentleman. She showered and hunted out one of his shirts before climbing into his bed. He came in bearing two hot cups of tea. He sat on the bed and they drank together, smiling shyly at each other. When they'd finished, he took his shorts and went into the bathroom, soon emerging showered and she smiled to herself as he placed a clean uniform and boots within easy reach of the bed.
He hesitated as he pulled back the covers and was tense as he lay beside her. Beverly sighed and turned onto her side. She leaned over and gently kissed his whiskery cheek, making him sigh.
"Goodnight Jean-Luc."
He swallowed and willed himself to relax.
"Goodnight Beverly. Lights off."
The room was plunged into darkness and Jean-Luc concentrated on listening to Beverly's breathing. His eyes began to droop and when he was sure she was asleep he allowed himself to fall into slumber.

 

 

 

 

 

The alarm didn't sound the next morning. The programme off line, the occupants in the bed slept on blissfully unaware as the hours marched on. It was 09.36 when Jean-Luc stirred, his arm tightening around the soft warm feminine body that was moulded against him. Still mostly asleep, he nuzzled into her hair and pressed his erection firmly against her buttocks. She sighed and mewed, snuggling back into him, taking his hand in hers and guiding it to her breast. He gently squeezed the breast, his fingers seeking and finding the hardening nipple. He teased the swelling bud and slowly insinuated one leg between hers. The call from the Bridge made him freeze.
"Riker to Captain Picard."
With shock and embarrassment he pulled away from his bedmate and cleared his throat. In a remarkably even voice he answered,
"Picard here."
"Captain are you all right?"
"Yes Number One I'm fine. Why?"
There was a pause, followed by…
"Well it's 09.55 Sir. We meet with the Reliant in an hour."
"Shit!"
"Sir?"
"Nothing Commander. I will be there shortly. Picard out."
He sat up abruptly, careful to keep the blankets bunched in his lap. Beverly sat up too, her flushed face and quick movements giving away her embarrassment. Casting a knowing glance at his lap, she said,
"I'll go shower. Why don't you get breakfast?"
Unable to answer her, he nodded, the blush climbing to colour the tips of his ears.
She exited the bed and he studiously ignored her as she gathered her uniform and disappeared into the bathroom. He waited until things had subsided before throwing off the covers and sliding from the bed. He donned his robe and was setting the table when Beverly came into the living area. He looked up, managed a weak smile then retreated to his bedroom to shower, shave and dress.
By the time he was finished, Beverly had croissants and coffee on the table and they ate in silence, avoiding looking at each other. He stood when he'd finished and spoke.
"Well I should be getting to the Bridge."
She nodded and lowered her head.
"And I should be getting to Sick Bay. Thank you Jean-Luc…for letting me stay…"
Brushing at some non-existent crumbs and concentrating on the tabletop he mumbled,
"Oh it was nothing. You're welcome anytime…"
They walked to the doors together and baulked when they both tried to exit at the same time. Jean-Luc stopped, backed up and gestured for her to precede him. She smiled shyly and ran her finger down his cheek.
"I'll see you later."
He nodded and smiled, watching appreciatively as she walked away from him. Sighing he turned in the opposite direction and made his way to the Bridge.

 

 

 

 

The Enterprise had been at the space dock for four days. The repairs were well underway and the Captain had rostered his crew to take leave on the dock, a large affair orbiting a class L planet. Bowing to Beverly's insistence, he found himself standing outside one of the many holosuites waiting for his red headed companion a picnic basket and towel in hand. Dressed in shorts and short-sleeved shirt, he pushed his straw hat back on his head and consulted the computer.
"Computer what is the time?"
"The time is 14.12 hours."
He frowned and shook his head.
"Late…as usual."
He was about to initiate the programme when she called to him.
"Jean-Luc!"
Walking briskly, she was soon standing in front of him, slightly out of breath.
"Sorry I'm late…there was a hiccup in Sickbay."
"Nothing serious I hope?"
She shook her head, smiling.
"No, not at all. Well I see you dressed appropriately."
She stood back and looked him up and down, her smile turning lascivious.
He huffed and scowled.
"It's not as if you gave a choice…and why are you barefoot?"
Beverly giggled and spun before him, her cream sundress billowing.
"Because I have my sandals in here."
She gestured to the basket she carried.
"You mean to tell me you've been strolling through the base…barefooted?"
She laughed again and shook her head.
"No silly. I took them off just beyond that bulkhead…I wanted to be…capricious."
He appraised her and had to admit he liked what he saw. There were tiny red roses scattered across the dress and the shape of the garment accentuated her lithe form.
"Capricious? Just what sort of picnic will this be?"
Beverly stepped up to him and slid her arm through his.
"Relaxing…and fun. Come on, is the programme loaded?"
Smiling indulgently, Jean-Luc nodded and swept his arm wide.
"Uh huh, after you."
They entered and stood in awe. Situated on a small white beach, huge boulders framed the curve of sand and a clear fast flowing creek wended its way into the surf that ran up the inclination. As the doors closed, they morphed into thick bush that tumbled down to the sand, bird song and a slight breeze disturbing the calm. Jean-Luc turned a full circle his smile widening into a rare full grin.
"Beverly…this is stunning. Where are we?"
The Doctor closed her eyes and tilted her head back, basking in the strong sunlight.
"It's a national park in southern Australia. I came here in my final year of medicine."
He closed the distance between them and said softly,
"Were you alone?"
Still with eyes closed, Beverly drew a deep breath and nodded.
"Uh huh. I rented a cabin and spent my days here."
The Captain placed his basket on the sand and shook out the blanket.
"Where would you like to sit?"
Beverly opened her eyes and grinned at her handsome companion.
"Over there, beside the creek."
He nodded and walked the few steps to bring him closer to the watercourse.
"I'll put the wine in the water, it should cool nicely."
When he straightened his eyes narrowed as he watched Beverly strip her dress off over her head. Underneath she wore a sea-green one piece, high cut and very flattering. Noticing his scrutiny she smiled slyly and turned towards the surf.
"Coming?"
His hands unbuttoned his shirt and it with his shorts were doffed without him taking his eyes off her. He slipped off his sandals and faced the water, standing at her shoulder. She cast her eyes up and down his lean, muscular body, grinning evilly when she noted the black speedos.
"Last one in…"
She broke first, him an instant behind her. They ran into the surf, diving under the waves as the depth increased. They swam and lolled in the water for over an hour, the chill of the southern waters eventually driving them back to the sand. Jean-Luc handed Beverly her towel and roughly rubbed his skin with his own, encouraging the warmth back. As the sun was still high, they stretched out on the blanket and let the heat finish off what the towels had started. Beverly soon sat up and rummaged in her bag, withdrawing a tube of moisturiser.
"Rub my back?"
He sat up and held out his hand, grimacing when Beverly squirted a dollop of cream into his palm. With strong, broad strokes, he rubbed the cream into her skin, delighting in the silky smoothness and alabaster perfection. Finished far too soon for his liking, he lay back down and watched as Beverly went through the ritual of anointing herself with the cream. Her skin glowing, she lay beside him and sighed.
"This is nice."
His voice rough and deep, he replied,
"Yes it is."
The lay in silence for a while, listening to the surf and birds. Jean-Luc was drifting…almost dozing when her voice filtered through.
"Jean-Luc?"
"Hmm?"
"About the other morning…"
His eyes snapped open, his jaw flexing.
"What about it?"
"What do you think would've happened if Will hadn't called when he did?"
Jean-Luc cleared his throat and knitted his fingers over his chest.
"Beverly…"
She rolled onto her side and looked at him, her expression unreadable.
"No really Jean-Luc. Do you think we would've…"
He sat up abruptly and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Beverly we were both half asleep…reacting to physical stimulation…I, that is I don't…"
Her laughter caught him off guard.
"Hey I'm not angry…quite the opposite. As I recall I was thoroughly enjoying myself. It's been too damn long since I've felt that…"
He smiled ruefully and took her hand.
"Me too. It seems to me that I've woken up in that state far too many times, except that I'm usually alone."
Her smile faded and her eyes drilled into him.
"What do you do then?"
Returning her intense scrutiny, he refused to be embarrassed.
"What do you think I do?"
She broke eye contact and flushed.
"Often?"
He sniffed and frowned.
"Often enough."
There was silence between them for a while before her heard her say softly,
"Do you think of me when you…"
He lowered his head and sighed. Then with defiance he raised his head and said firmly,
"Every damn time!"
Beverly released his hand and scooted closer. With gentle tenderness she caressed his face.
"Me too."
His eyebrows rose, his dark eyes glittering. In a hushed whisper he asked,
"Really?"
"Uh huh. Every time."
Slow smiles crept across their faces and they met in a soft kiss. Beverly withdrew and reached for the picnic basket. He watched with amusement as she emptied the contents onto the blanket, and chuckled when her stomach growled.
He stood and retrieved the wine, taking some minutes to find the corkscrew. Once he'd poured the wine, they set about demolishing the feast of fruit, cheeses and bread. Once filled, Jean-Luc turned onto his belly and cradled his head in his arms. Beverly stretched out and liberated a book from her basket, fully aware that he was watching her.
"Go to sleep Jean-Luc."
"Don't want to."
Not taking her eyes off the book, she chuckled.
"Oh go on…I know you're tired."
"I want to watch you."
Turning her head, she regarded him with an indulgent smile.
"With all this stunning beauty around us, you want to watch little old me?"
He grinned, his eyes sparkling.
"Mmhmm."
She returned her gaze to the text, a satisfied smile gracing her features.
"Well I'm flattered of course, but I think you need your eyes tested."
His silence was his reply and Beverly settled into her book, warmed by his gentle affection.
Half an hour passed and Beverly stifled a quiet chuckle as his soft snoring became evident. Putting her book down she took the time to look at him…really look at him. His body and face relaxed in sleep, she marvelled at his well-muscled form, his worry lines smoothed and his well concealed vulnerability exposed. She moved closer and leaned down to smell his skin, closing her eyes as her senses were inundated with warmth. With boldness she darted her tongue out and tasted him, the saltiness of his skin delighting her. He sighed and turned over, affording her an unhindered view of the tantalising bulges within his speedos. She supported herself on one arm as she feathered her fingers through the hair of his chest and stomach, surprised at how soft it was. He sighed again and she noticed his nipples had pebbled. Her eyes drifted down his torso and widened when she saw his growing erection. Snapping her head up, she was riveted by his dark eyes, staring intently at her. They stayed frozen in time, staring at each other. Slowly Jean-Luc raised his hand and ran his fingers down her face. In a rough whisper he pleaded,
"Beverly…"
She bent to him and their lips met, softly and tenderly. His eyes drifted shut as his fingers tangled in her hair. She bent her arm and lowered herself onto his chest as he deepened the kiss, moaning softly into her mouth.
"Captain Dalgleish to Captain Picard."
Startled, Beverly broke the kiss and sat up. Jean-Luc swore vehemently and rolled onto his side, reaching for his shirt. Gaining his communicator he calmed himself and answered the hail.
"Picard here."
"Captain I know you're off duty, but we're ready for you to go over the next phase of reconstruction of the sensor array and it will facilitate things greatly if we could start right away."
"Captain…" Jean-Luc squeezed his eyes shut and sighed. "Very well, I'll be there shortly. Picard out."
He looked up to find Beverly dressing. She'd packed her basket and busied herself tidying her hair. He stood and stepped up to her, taking her hands.
"Beverly…"
Not meeting his eyes, the Doctor fussed with his shirt.
"You go on Jean-Luc, I'll pack up here."
"Beverly we should…"
She stilled her hands and laid them on his chest.
"Not now Jean-Luc. You go it's all right."
Needing to leave, but not wanting to, he hesitated and tried to look into her eyes.
"Have dinner with me?"
He knew her answer by her sigh.
"I don't think so Jean-Luc."
Desperate, he squeezed her shoulders.
"Breakfast then…please Beverly."
Making brief eye contact she smiled quickly and bent to pick up his shorts.
"You'd better put your clothes on…we can't have the Captain of the Enterprise wandering around the base half naked."
"Beverly!"
In silence she picked up the remains of their meal and folded the blanket. Angered, Jean-Luc dressed quickly and stepped past her, stopping and gripping her arm.
"Breakfast tomorrow morning…all right?"
She nodded and he had to be satisfied with that. Striding quickly, he barked,
"Exit!"
After he'd gone, Beverly sat on the sand and lowered her head into her hands.
"Oh God what am I doing? I'm playing with fire!"

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning found Jean-Luc setting the table for breakfast. Although in uniform, he had hopes of taking some time off later that afternoon. He was going to ask Beverly to accompany him when she arrived and he smiled at his plans. He was extricating the croissants from the replicator when the call came through.
"Crusher to Picard."
"Picard here."
"I'm sorry Jean-Luc I'll have to cancel our breakfast. Engineering wants to lay in the new relays in Sickbay and I have a surgery to perform."
Jean-Luc closed his eyes and swore softly.
"Very well Doctor. Perhaps we can meet later for lunch?"
"I don't think so Captain, it'll be pretty full on here for the whole day."
Was that tension he heard in her voice?
"Understood. Picard out."
He threw the pastries down on the table in disgust. Standing very still, he willed his anger into manageable proportions, then brusquely set about clearing the table. He quickly swallowed a cup of coffee and left his quarters, heading for the Bridge.

 

 

As it turned out, the day was a long one. The slow process of replicating new parts for the damaged ship took time and many departments made claims for his attention. Jean-Luc sighed as he shut down his computer and sat back in his chair, looking around his newly refurbished Ready Room. Glancing at the chronometer, he winced at seeing the time; not realising how many hours had slipped by as he'd worked. Standing, he stretched out the kinks in his muscles and debated whether or not to continue with the never-ending reports. Sighing, he shook his head and left his office, noting that the beta shift was manning the Bridge. Nodding to the Lieutenant on duty, he entered the turbolift and muttered his destination, rubbing his hands over his face.
He strolled into his quarters and stopped dead when his eyes made contact with the form asleep on his sofa. He approached the slumbering person and frowned when he identified Beverly. He crouched beside her and gently shook her shoulder.
"Hey."
Cracking her eyes open slowly, a smile appeared as she sighed. She stretched, making her eyes crinkle. Jean-Luc stood and moved to his favourite chair, watching as the object of his desire came fully awake.
"What are you doing here?"
Sitting up and folding her hands in her lap, Beverly tilted her head and frowned.
"I didn't like the way our…picnic ended."
Jean-Luc sighed and rubbed the back of his neck.
"Neither did I, but you seemed to want to…put some distance between us."
She softly admitted,
"Yes I did."
His voice barely a whisper, he asked,
"Why?"
She placed her hands on either side of her thighs and straightened her arms.
"Because I'm having trouble dealing with the intensity of my desire for you."
It was not what he'd expected her to say and he was shocked…shocked and delighted.
"Why should it trouble you? If you would just allow yourself…"
Beverly held up her hand, stopping him.
"You don't understand Jean-Luc. I've had feelings for you…I've wanted you for so long…I'm afraid if I let that particular genie out of its bottle…God, anything could happen."
He frowned deeply.
"Like what? Like forming a lasting, satisfying relationship with someone you love that just happens to include good sex? Beverly I don't want to simply fuck you, although I have to admit, that's tempting. I want the whole thing…everything…warts and all."
She stared at him so long he feared he'd overstepped the mark. She shook her head and rubbed her fingers over her temple.
"I don't believe this! You…you of all people!"
He stood, anger biting his words.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Sit down Jean-Luc. Think about this for a moment. We are two high-ranking officers, serving together on the Federation's Flagship. Our jobs carry a certain amount of prestige…and a lot of stress. We're set in our ways and far too stubborn for our own good AND we've got thirty years of history…baggage if you like to contend with. And let's not forget our devotion to duty…nothing but tunnel vision there… Yet you want start a relationship with me. Now…after all these years?"
Jean-Luc scowled and ran his hand over his pate. Taking the time to gather his thoughts, he strove for calm.
"Beverly you know I've loved you for many years. Finding out that you felt the same way has filled me with a joy I can barely describe! Why shouldn't we pursue a relationship? What's so wrong with wanting to find that sort of connection at our age?"
Beverly squinted and tilted her head.
"Is that it Jean-Luc? Are you feeling your age? Maybe getting a little lonely?"
On his feet again, he couldn't keep the anger out of his voice.
"Stop it! What are you trying to do…find an excuse why we can't be happy?"
Beverly stood slowly and held up her hands.
"Ok! Look I'm sorry, I'm just trying to find my way through this."
He took a calming breath and took her hands in his.
"Beverly all I'm asking is for you to give it a go. At least try…please?"
She gazed into his earnest face, seeing his love, his determination. She sighed expansively, shaking her head.
"I must be mad…but all right Jean-Luc, we'll give it a try…but if, God forbid, we lose our friendship…I'll never forgive you."
He wrapped her in his arms and buried his face in her neck.
"Never my love."
She kissed his cheek and whispered,
"We take this slow Jean-Luc. Don't expect to tip me into your bed immediately to satisfy your carnal desires. I need time."
He drew back and gently pushed her hair behind her ear.
"You can have all the time you want. I told you Beverly…I'm a very patient man."
"Yes well we'll see. For now I'm going back to my quarters…I've got a lot to think about."
Jean-Luc sighed and frowned.
"You won't stay?"
Shaking her head, she pressed her fingers to his lips.
"No Jean-Luc…my feelings for you right now are…turbulent, to say the least. I think it's better if I retire and let things simmer down."
He nodded slowly before a small smile appeared.
"But I can kiss you goodnight?"
Her own smile crept across her face, her eyes shining. Whispering, she closed the gap between them.
"Oh yes, I think so…"
He took her into his arms and kissed her slowly and tenderly, withholding his passion for a more loving connection. She sighed into his mouth and wound her arms around his head, her fingers caressing his short hair. His eyes drifted shut and his hands ran slowly up and down her back, resisting the strong urge to grip her buttocks and pull her hard against his body.
They parted simultaneously and stood for some time, lost in each other's gaze, their foreheads touching. Beverly lifted her head and kissed his cheek.
"Goodnight Jean-Luc."
"Goodnight Beverly…my love."
He watched as she turned and left, the closing doors quiet in the otherwise silent room.

 

 

 

 

Over the next ten days things progressed more or less normally. The repairs to the ship finally reached their conclusion and they prepared to leave, Jean-Luc ensconced in the Ready Room for two hours receiving his new orders. As for Beverly and the Captain, they fell into their usual routine, breakfasts and dinners together, but the touches and glances took on a whole new meaning. Try as they might, with all that was going on, their respective jobs kept them busy, too busy to do anything about their burgeoning relationship. Jean-Luc was sitting at his desk in his quarters very late one night when his door chimed. Frowning at the interruption, he barked,
"Come!"
Not looking up from his computer, he became aware of a growing silence. When his eyes did leave the terminal, he couldn't suppress a wry grin.
"Well Hello Beverly. What are you doing, haunting the ship at this ungodly hour?"
She stepped further into the room and came to the desk, hitching herself on the edge.
"I had a sneaking suspicion that my CO wasn't getting enough sleep. Just what time do you think you'll get to bed?"
He sighed and sat back, his hands tiredly rubbing his face.
"We've received our new orders. My task is to sort out how to juggle the mission while we recalibrate over a dozen new systems. Headquarters wants us to leave immediately…well before we're ready. In fact Geordi and his staff are all on double shifts trying to get us up and running."
Beverly left the desk and beckoned him to join her on the sofa. Once they were both seated, she took his hand.
"Jean-Luc I know all this is vitally important, but do I have to remind you that you need your rest? You can't continue to…"
He took his hand back and scowled. Through gritted teeth he rasped,
"Look Doctor if I don't…" he sighed and closed his eyes. He started again.
"Beverly…I understand your concern, but I simply must complete this work…the efficiency…the well being of the ship is at stake."
She tilted her head and regarded him, thinking.
"Ok fair enough, but will you promise me something?"
He smiled lopsidedly and shook his head. Resignedly he sighed,
"If I can."
"Promise me that as soon as you're finished, you'll go to bed…and disengage the alarm."
He snorted.
"Beverly I can't…"
In an almost placatory tone, she muttered,
"Jean-Luc if you won't at least meet me half way…I will make it an order. You've been going at it flat out for the past week. It's time you rested…properly."
About to argue, he instead swallowed his irritation and summoned a grim smile.
"It always comes to this doesn't it?"
"What?"
"Me working too hard and you threatening me with dire consequences of I don't listen to you."
Beverly smiled softly and tenderly took his hand.
"That's because Captains think they're indestructible. It's the CMO's job to remind them that they're mortal and have to abide by the same laws of nature that everyone else does."
He lowered his eyes and watched as he caressed her hand with his thumb.
"Is that the only reason?"
Her gentle laugh brought his eyes to hers.
"You know damn well what my motives are."
His eyebrows rose, a wicked gleam came to his eyes.
"Are you telling me you have ulterior motives Doctor?"
She leaned forward and gently kissed his lips, ducking when he tried to catch her and deepen the kiss.
Regarding him with a mischievous look, she took his hand and gently kissed each finger, dallying with the index finger, which she slowly sucked into her mouth, sliding her tongue around the digit.
With wide eyes Jean-Luc watched, his breaths coming in a pant. Keeping eye contact, Beverly raised her lips up and down his finger and smiled inwardly as he shifted in his seat, coming closer. She expelled the finger and ran her own finger down his face. In a low sultry voice she said,
"When we eventually make love, my dear Captain, I don't want you fatigued or thinking about anything but what we're doing. Do I make myself clear?"
Nodding dumbly, his mouth slightly ajar, he watched as Beverly rose sinuously and turned to the door. She walked a few steps and spun around.
He stood, minus his usual grace and Beverly's eyebrows rose as she spotted the bulge in his pants.
"Get some rest Jean-Luc…I'll see you at breakfast."
After she left he closed his eyes and willed his passion to subside, something that was unlikely to occur. He slowly raised his right hand then cast his eyes down to his groin. Sighing, he went to his desk, turned off the monitor and sauntered into his bedroom, looking for the lubricant.

 

 

 

Late in the afternoon of the next day the great ship severed her connections to the space dock and set her course for the Australis Nebula. Within its depths was a ship manned by an unknown race that were engaging in piracy. Over ten ships had been reported assaulted most enduring deaths amongst their crews. The pirates were brutal and uncompromising, taking anything of value, both personal and commercial.
It would take four days at warp five to reach the last known coordinates in the nebula and Jean-Luc pressed his crew to finish installing the new systems. At the morning briefing he'd stressed the need for the ship to be at her optimum, encouraging all departments to push hard for completion of their tasks.
Heeding Beverly's advice, he retired early…or at least early for him, although it was still after midnight. He'd just settled down when his door chime sounded. Bemused, he rose, donned his robe and answered the door.
"Come."
He was somewhat surprised when Beverly entered, uncharacteristically hesitant. He noted that she too was dressed in night attire.
"Beverly? Is something wrong?"
She stalked to the viewport and wrapped her arms around herself, a sure sign she was upset. He moved to her slowly, giving her the chance to distance herself from him if she wished. She stood her ground and he came around to face her.
"What is it?"
She lowered her head and sighed.
"I had trouble sleeping…and when I did I had…disturbing dreams."
He grimaced, remembering only too well the many times his sleep had been invaded by night terrors.
"Disturbing? Nightmares?"
Her smile perplexed him.
"No Jean-Luc not nightmares."
Now completely nonplussed, he asked,
"What then?"
She lowered her arms and blushed.
"Erotic dreams Jean-Luc. Erotic dreams about you and me."
He took a step back, his eyebrows heading to his nonexistent hairline.
"Oh."
"Yes…Oh."
He walked a little way, then turned and came back.
"Then why did you..?"
"Come here? Because I'm so aroused I can't sleep!"
She stepped closer to him and placed her hands on his chest.
"Jean-Luc…are you very tired tonight?"
With a slow smile creeping across his face, he shook his head.
"No Beverly…as a matter of fact I feel like I could run a marathon."
She chuckled, the throaty noise thrilling him.
"Good…although I don't think it will be a marathon…"
Taking her in his arms he nuzzled her neck.
"Whatever it takes…"
He surprised her by leading her to the sofa. They sat and he continued to nuzzle her, seemingly content to take his time. As frustrated as she was, Beverly tried to hurry him up, caressing him through his shorts and biting his earlobe. He withstood her actions and slothfully kissed her neck, his hands slowly making their way to her breasts.
Impatient, Beverly pulled away and said,
"For God's sake Jean-Luc…what the hell are you doing?"
His amused, heated look silenced her.
"Hush Beverly…I'm seducing you."
She spluttered.
"Seducing me? But…you don't have to! I'm with you in this…I want this…"
His sighed, gently cupping her breasts, his attention firmly fastened on the tantalising mounds.
"Oh I know…it's just that I've had this particular fantasy for so long…I'd just like to…"
She smiled then, both at his confession and at his honesty. She lay back on the sofa and raised her arms.
"Come on then…seduce me Jean-Luc."
He came to her slowly, covering her body with his and kissing her for the first time with all the passion he felt. She rose under him and returned the kiss, allowing herself, also for the first time, to reply in kind.
His foreplay was prolonged, and she marvelled at his control. He was skilful and considerate, delighting her with his hands and mouth. Eventually he stood and brought her to her feet before him. With slow, exaggerated movements he stripped off her clothing and then with the same deliberate manner, divested himself of his robe and shorts. He then surprised her by sweeping her up into his arms and taking her to his bedroom. Laying her gently on the bed, he stretched out beside her and took her in his arms. Whispering reverently, he asked,
"Tell me what you feel right now."
Smiling at his mood, she snuggled into his embrace and closed her eyes.
"I feel highly aroused and completely safe. I am with the man I love, a man I know who will do everything in his power to bring me pleasure. What do you feel?"
He sighed and ran his hand down her thigh, encouraging her to part her legs. His fingers slipped over and inside her, making her gasp. In a deep voice he rumbled,
"I also feel deeply aroused…but more than that…I feel the rightness of this. I've waited so long…wanted so long…do you feel it Beverly?"
Almost inarticulate with sensation with what he was doing to her, she managed to nod and gasp,
"Oh yes…Oh God yes! I want you Jean-Luc…I need you so badly…"
"Then you shall have me my love."
He eased her onto her back and knelt between her legs. Looking down at her spread before him, he closed his eyes and muttered,
"Exquisite…"
He lowered his body over hers and entered her slowly, clenching his jaw as she rose to meet him and contracted around him. Knowing he would have control only if he was gentle, he pushed in and out slowly, allowing for her to adjust to him. But she would have none of it. She slid her hands down his back and gripped his buttocks, pulling him down quickly and grinding herself against him. He grunted and raised his head.
"Beverly! No…slowly…I can't…"
She lifted her head and bit his shoulder hard, panting…
"Oh God Jean-Luc fuck me! Quickly! I need…I want…"
He lowered his head and sank his teeth into her neck as he reached down and slid his hands under her buttocks. Thrusting hard and fast, Beverly cried out and clung to him urging him on.
"Yes! Oh yes Jean-Luc…more!…harder!…"
He clenched his eyes closed and gave up any semblance of control. Thrusting vigorously, almost violently he felt his climax approach and gasped as he felt Beverly begin to buck under him. In a haze of ecstasy he realised she was in the throes of orgasm as his release surged through him. He spasmed and flexed, his body jerking with aftershocks.
It was some time before he realised she was weeping.
Immediately concerned he raised his head and asked,
"Beverly? Are you all right? Did I hurt you?"
He was relieved when she shook her head but she didn't stop crying.
"Then what is it? Why do you weep?"
She found that releasing her grip of his buttocks took a concerted effort, her fingers seemingly to have locked in position. She flexed her hands and moved them to hold his head.
"Oh Jean-Luc…that was so…I needed that so much! You were…it was…Oh God…"
He smiled then, even chuckling.
"There's no need to deify me Beverly, I can see that you enjoyed yourself."
She chortled, glad to alleviate his worry.
"Don't be so insufferably smug! You seemed to enjoy it too!"
He kissed her then, slowly and tenderly.
"Indeed I did."
Becoming serious, she looked deeply into his eyes.
"Was it everything you'd imagined?"
He nuzzled her neck and licked away the blood he'd raised on her skin.
"Everything and more…although I would've taken a more leisurely approach…"
"Leisurely my arse! I wanted it and I wanted it hard and fast. Have you any complaints?"
He shook his head and grinned.
"No…as long as you let me have my way occasionally."
She lifted her head and kissed his nose.
"I think that can be arranged."
She squeezed him internally making him gasp.
"Tell me Captain…when do you think you'll be able to…"
He groaned and lowered his head, content to nuzzle her again. Around her nipple he said,
"Realistically? About an hour…maybe a little more."
Sighing, she rested her head back on the pillow, giving in to his caress.
"An hour? Good that'll give me time to do some exploring."
He broke the connection, a quizzical frown on his face.
"Exploring? What..?"
He yelped when she suddenly turned him over. Dislodged from her he grimaced, then guffawed as she ran her fingers over his ribs.
"I knew it! You're ticklish!"
In the morning the couple lay quietly, basking in the afterglow of lovemaking. This time Jean-Luc had had his way and they'd taken a more prolonged avenue to their pleasure. Beverly lay in his arms, idly swirling her fingers through his chest hair.
"Where did you learn to do that?"
He tucked in his chin as he strove to see her face. Failing, he kissed the top of her head instead.
"Do what?"
She chuckled and pinched his nipple.
"You know damn well what I'm talking about…that little technique of yours with your tongue."
He grinned wolfishly and felt smugly pleased.
"Oh that? Well let's just say any Frenchman worth his salt should know exactly how to please his partner…it's taught to us in primary school…erotica 101."
Laughing delightedly, Beverly eased herself over him and stretched out, then kissed him languidly. He allowed his hands to glide down her flanks and come to rest on her buttocks, which he squeezed. She moaned into his mouth, withdrawing and gently biting his lower lip. He watched her intently as she lifted her head to stare at him, a grin slowly sliding over her face.
"What?"
"Do you realise you speak in French when you're making love?"
He frowned and shook his head.
"I don't…do I?"
"Uh huh. I find it very sexy."
"What do I say?"
She bonked her head against his and wrinkled her nose.
"I don't know…I don't speak French."
His hands came up to her shoulders, pulling her closer.
"Well you'd better learn. If I'm going to whisper endearments in my native tongue I expect you to understand me."
"Aye Sir. And what if I revert to Gaelic?"
His eyebrows rose, a look of interest in his dark eyes.
"You can speak Gaelic?"
Using her index finger, she traced the lines of his face.
"Uh huh. I've been known to slip into the vernacular on odd…intense occasions."
"I see…so we can introduce each other to our native language?"
"Mmm. Jean-Luc…are you getting hard again by any chance?"
He slid his hands down to her buttocks again and pulled her to him, pushing up and grinding himself against her.
"I was wondering when you'd notice that."
Grinning wickedly, Beverly parted her legs and sat up, straddling him. Laughing she took his hands and kissed his palms.
"It's only been…what…half an hour? What's going on?"
He smirked and pushed up again, his erection rubbing against her clitoris making her close her eyes and gasp.
"You're about to find out that I'm a morning person…any objections?"
Unable to articulate, she shook her head and released his hands, leaning forward and gripping his shoulders instead. As she raised herself, he took his erection in hand and guided it to her entrance, penetrating her when she rocked back. They both moaned and he gripped her hips as he pushed up powerfully, reaching deeply inside her. Her mouth gaping in ecstasy, Beverly rose and fell on him, making him arch his head back, straining until his neck muscles stood out in stark relief. Unable to resist, she increased the pace. His hands moved, one to her breast, one to her clitoris. He stroked her in time with the tempo she set and she cried out, calling his name.
Digging his heels into the mattress, he bent his knees and met her plunges with thrusts of his own, the impact making her breasts jiggle. Suddenly her head snapped back and she shrieked, her hands digging into the muscles of his upper arms. He watched in awe as she gyrated upon him, totally given to her orgasm. He let her sounds wash over him, carrying him ever closer to his own climax. It came upon him with abrupt intensity, his whole body tensing, his hands in a claw-like grip of her hips, pulling her down, melding their bodies together.
Panting and moaning, Beverly fell forward and he wrapped his arms around her, their hearts racing against their ribs, evident to each of them. Still contracting around his penis, Jean-Luc pushed into her and shuddered with sensation. Beverly turned her head and gently bit his earlobe, making him quieten. Their skin coated with a light sheen of sweat, Beverly lengthened her legs and stretched out over him, feeling him still pulsing occasionally inside her. Wearily raising her head, she kissed him, snorting when both of them still needed to catch their breath.
"So…you're a morning person eh? As it turns out…so am I."
He grinned slyly and tilted his head.
"How convenient. I can see us being occasionally late for briefings."
"Well you might consider altering the time of the briefings…to the afternoon for instance."
He watched as he threaded his fingers through her hair. Sighing he shook his head, his voice a whisper.
"God Beverly why didn't we do this years ago? We've wasted so much time…"
Her fingers found his mouth and silenced him. Shaking her head, she frowned.
"No Jean-Luc…no recriminations…no looking back. What we have now…it's too precious to analyse or try to dissect. Accept it for what it is and simply be happy."
He closed his eyes and Beverly was shocked to see two tears roll down his face.
"Jean-Luc?"
He pulled her down and hugged her fiercely, his body trembling. When he'd regained his composure, he released her and let her raise herself up.
"What is it?"
He gave a short strangled laugh and his eyes again filled with tears.
"I'm so bloody happy!"
Not quite sure what to make of this, Beverly chose to gently wipe away his tears and softly laugh with him. He settled quickly and took her face in his hands.
"And you Beverly…are you happy?"
She allowed her smile to grow until she was beaming at him. Gently placing her elbows beside his arms, she tenderly took his face in her hands and kissed him with all the love she felt, pouring herself into him and exulting when he returned the kiss in kind. They parted and remained close, their noses touching.
"I love you." Was whispered in unison, bringing a smile to them both. Beverly relaxed against him and they lay quietly until the call came through from the Bridge.
"Riker to Captain Picard."
"Picard here."
"Captain the senior staff have assembled for the morning briefing…except for Doctor Crusher. We were wondering Sir…"
Barely keeping the amusement from his voice, Jean-Luc responded.
"Ah yes Commander. I think it best we cancel this morning's briefing…Doctor Crusher ordered me to get some rest and I disengaged the alarm. Sorry if I've caused any inconvenience."
"Not at all Sir…sorry to have disturbed you. Riker out."
The big First Officer turned to his staff and smiled.
"Well you heard the man…meeting over. Geordi I'll catch up with you this afternoon. Deanna, will you wait a minute?"
Smiling in a distinctly conspiratorial way, Deanna nodded to her lover. Once the room was empty, Will winked at the Counsellor.
"Computer where is Doctor Crusher?"
"Doctor Crusher is in the Captain's quarters."
"And how long has she been there?"
"Since 0047 this morning."
Grinning wickedly, Will spun his chair and slapped his thigh.
"I knew it! Deanna? What do you sense?"
Shaking her head, she mustered a frown.
"Will it's really none of our business."
"Oh come on Deanna don't tell me you're not burning with curiosity? Tell me…what are they doing?"
Sighing expansively, the Betazoid closed her eyes and concentrated. Within moments a warm smile crept across her face.
"They're almost asleep…and feeling…sated…very satisfied."
Rubbing his beard, Will mused,
"I wonder if last night…or this morning was the first time?"
"What does it matter?"
With a gleam in his eyes, Will chuckled.
"Because the ship's betting pool has grown quite a lot recently."
Her mouth dropping open, Deanna rose and slapped his shoulder.
"William Riker! Don't tell me you placed a bet? He's your Captain for God's sake! And she's your friend!"
"Hey the pot is huge! I could make a killing."
The Counsellor sat back down and crossed her arms.
"Aren't you at least happy for them?"
"What? Oh of course I am. God they waited long enough."
Deanna stood and came to stand behind the Commander, absently massaging his broad shoulders.
"It's not going to be easy for them you know."
He screwed his head around and frowned.
"Why?"
"Oh come on Will…think! He's the ultra private celebrated Starfleet legend…and the most eligible bachelor… and she's the most respected, most formidable physician in the fleet. I know the scuttlebutt has had them paired off for years, but they always held themselves above all that. Now if it's true, they'll have to deal with the crew and the senior staff. It will affect all of us."
Will snorted, reaching up and stilling Deanna's hands.
"I hadn't thought of that. What do you think they'll do?"
The Counsellor seated herself and spent a moment plexing. Eventually she sighed and answered the question.
"I think they'll keep it very quiet…at least for a time. When they've become settled with the consequences, I feel confident they'll tell us…although it'll probably be just you and me at first, the rest of the senior staff will have to wait a little while."
"You really think they'll try to keep it a secret?"
She nodded, a smile creeping across her face.
"Yes I do…and Will you'll have to keep what you know to yourself…no teasing! Believe me the Captain wouldn't appreciate it."
The big man grinned and shook his head.
"Damn that'll be hard! With what we know…"
The Counsellor held up her hand.
"No Will…come on…promise me."
He hesitated just long enough for her to frown before he grinned again and took her hand.
"Ok Dee, I'll leave them alone…AND I won't make any new bets…but it's going to cost you."
His sly leer made her flutter her hand over her chest.
"Why Commander whatever do you mean?"
Grinning wolfishly, Will leaned close.
"You'll find out tonight!"

 

 

 

 

 

Having made a call to Sickbay to excuse herself for the day, the couple drifted off to sleep for some hours, waking when hunger made itself known. They rose and showered together, then dressed, Beverly inordinately pleased to note that Jean-Luc chose off duty clothes. While she replicated a late brunch, the Captain contacted Will.
"Picard to Riker."
"Riker here Sir."
"Number One I'm going to spend the day in my quarters. If anything comes up, don't hesitate to contact me. If the department heads have any problems that you can't handle…well you know where I am."
"Yes Sir. Ah Captain…are you all right?"
"I'm fine Commander, just taking Beverly's advice."
"Very good Sir. Enjoy you rest. Riker out."
As Jean-Luc seated himself, Beverly poured the coffee.
"He probably knows you know."
Jean-Luc's head snapped up, his eyes hardening.
"How?"
Beverly sat and took a sandwich, pulling it apart.
"Don't you think he wouldn't have checked where I was when I didn't make the briefing?"
Jean-Luc covered his eyes with his hand.
"Shit!"
"I wouldn't worry about it Jean-Luc. By now he would've had a talk with Deanna and she would've set him straight. I'm sure he'll behave."
The Captain snorted and scowled.
"He'd better if he knows what's good for him. I'm not above having him blown out an airlock."
The red head chuckled and passed him the plate of sandwiches. He took two and busied himself with eating. Beverly found herself watching, fascinated as always at how graceful and elegant he was, in everything he did, even something as mundane as eating a sandwich. Then she realised she no longer had to watch surreptitiously, she was now free to study him openly and the knowledge filled her with contented joy. He noticed the change in her and smiled as he tilted his head.
"What?"
She shook her head, feeling like a teenager in the first blush of love.
"It's nothing really…I just find you exceptionally handsome."
He frowned a disgruntled flush colouring his face.
"Beverly…"
"Oh Jean-Luc you don't know how good it feels…how liberated I feel, just being able to admire you openly!"
He sat back and straightened the serviette on his lap, flattered and humbled.
"My dear, dear Beverly…just being here with you, having you sitting with me at this table and having in my mind the memories of last night and this morning…I am so very happy…you've brought me such joy…"
Beverly's fingers covered her mouth as her eyes brimmed with tears. He went to her side and pulled her to her feet, embracing her and cradling her head on his shoulder.
"No tears my love. From now on…nothing but joy. Agreed?"
She nodded into his neck and sighed as he kissed her hair.
He barely heard her whispered,
"With our eyes wide open."

 

 

 

 

 

When Jean-Luc strode onto his Bridge the next morning, Will had to make a concerted effort not to grin slyly. Vacating the Command seat, he greeted his Captain.
"Good morning Sir. I hope you feel…rested."
Casting a suspicious glance at his subordinate, Jean-Luc tugged down on his jacket and chose to ignore it.
"Report Number One."
Now grinning widely, Will sat beside his CO and replied,
"Still on course Captain, ETA 36 hours. I had the latest report routed to the Ready Room terminal for your study…it seems there's still no identification of the pirates yet."
Jean-Luc frowned and pursed his lips.
"But there's been reports of fatalities amongst the plundered ships? What weapons were used?"
Will called up some data on his screen and scratched his beard.
"As far as we know, phasers and mercalite missiles from the ship, compressed particle beams from the hand weapons."
"Compressed particle beams? Where the hell would they get those…they're Orion in origin."
Will shrugged and tilted his head.
"Maybe they did some trading? The Orions aren't too particular with who they deal with."
"Perhaps Number One, but I would've thought they would be more likely to disadvantage any competition. Piracy has been an Orion past time for a very long time…why would they encourage rivals? There're only so many targets."
Will sat back and thought about what his Captain had said. It made sense. He was about to postulate when Jean-Luc said,
"And why the Australis Nebula? It's well charted, not all that remote. What is it about that region that makes it such a happy hunting ground?"
Will shook his head, his lips in a wry smile.
"Unknown Captain."
Jean-Luc crossed his legs and sighed.
"Well let's see if we can find out shall we? Ask Mr.Data to devote some time to studying the Nebula and report any findings immediately. Now Commander how is my ship?"
Straightening his spine, Will tucked in his chin.
"Almost ready Captain. Most of the systems are up and running and Geordi is running a few diagnostics here and there. The main concern is the aft port quarter shield grid. It's got a glitch that's defeating our efforts to correct it. Engineering has an idea or two, but it will be several hours until we know for sure. I left a PADD with all the relevant information on your Ready Room desk…I was hoping to have a complete picture for you but…"
Leaning over and gently gripping Will's forearm, Jean-Luc shook his head.
"It's all right Number One, I can see everything is under control."
He stood and looked about the Bridge, bringing his eyes to rest on his friend.
"I'll be in the Ready Room Commander."
Will stood and nodded.
"Aye Sir."

 

 

Data sat at the control module of Stellar Cartography and quickly assimilated the stream of information the ship's computer supplied. In a 360-degree panorama around him, the Australis Nebular stretched in all its turbulent glory. Swirling colours, gasses and debris roiled in a never-ending convulsion of a cataclysmic aftermath. He overlaid the known flight paths of the assaulted ships and cocked his head as he made his instant calculations.
"Curious."
Due to the dangerous nature of the nebula, there were only two or three safe passages through the seething wasteland of space. Noting that the attacks had taken place in one clustered vicinity, the android officer concentrated his search in that area. His fingers dancing across the console, he brought up a detailed analysis of the area and watched intently as the information scrolled down the screen at an astonishing rate.
"Fascinating."
He singled out one small nearby planet, designated class H and requested further information. In the small gap while the computer amassed the data, he looked above his head and frowned.
"Where are you hiding?"
The computer replied,
"That is not a valid enquiry. Please restate your question."
Data's eyebrows rose, then he smiled.
"I was not addressing you."
The information began to scroll and he read avidly, his occasional comments ignored by the computer.

 

 

 

 

Two hours later the Second Officer was seated in front of his Captain in the Ready Room. Jean-Luc frowned as he read the report, making the occasional note on the PADD. When he finished, he laid the instrument on the desk and focussed his attention on his visitor.
"Well Data it would seem you have uncovered a mystery."
Data nodded once and sat forward earnestly.
"Yes Captain, one that I fervently hope we can solve."
"As do I. Tell me…do you have a…gut feeling about this?"
He gestured to the PADD and Data nodded.
"I do Sir. My…guts tell me that there is, most likely, a base of some sort on that planet."
Jean-Luc pursed his lips and frowned.
"A class H planet? Unlikely."
"I do not think so Captain. Although the atmosphere is comprised mostly of helium and ammonia, there exists under the stratosphere a layer of oxygen/carbon gas. I believe it would be possible to construct a floating base, drawing in the required gasses as they are needed."
The Captain sat back and picked up his crystal shard, turning it slowly in his fingers.
"That's assuming we're dealing with oxygen breathers. I suppose it's just as likely they're at home on a class H planet."
"Agreed Captain. Until we encounter them, we will be…in the dark."
"Indeed Mr.Data. Thank you for your report, it was thorough as always."
Standing, Data nodded to his Captain and turned for the door, only to come to a halt. Rotating, he faced his CO. Jean-Luc looked up and raised his eyebrows.
"Is there something else Data?"
"Yes Captain there is."
When the android made no further comment, Jean-Luc sighed.
"Well?"
Gently placing his hands on the back of the chair, Data adopted a child-like inquisitiveness.
"Captain, you and Doctor Crusher have enjoyed a deep friendship for many years."
Jean-Luc nodded, keeping his own counsel.
"Sir…has that changed?"
The Captain frowned and stifled the glare that threatened.
"Changed? In what way?"
Data came around the chair and sat, staring earnestly at his Captain.
"You seem to be spending a lot of time with her and I noticed when she entered the turbolift with us this morning, you both immediately showed elevated heart and respiratory rates. Your body temperature rose one point three degrees. Also when you looked at her your pupils dilated one point…"
Jean-Luc held up his hand silencing the verbose officer. Taking the time to gather his thoughts, Jean-Luc swallowed and chose his words carefully.
"I would not presume to speak for the Doctor, but I can tell you that we've…progressed in our relationship recently."
"I see Sir. Are you having sex?"
Eyes glittering dangerously, Jean-Luc barked,
"Data!"
He took a calming breath and clasped his hands on the desk.
"Whether or not we're…it's none of your damn business!"
Data tilted his head, his face mirroring worry.
"I am sorry if I offended you Captain. I simply wanted to take part in the pool. It seems to be very popular with the crew."
With growing dread Jean-Luc ground out,
"Pool?"
"Yes Sir…the betting pool."
Jean-Luc sat back and closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. In a quietly deadly voice he asked,
"Are you telling me there's a betting pool…on whether or not the Doctor and I are…merde! Who is running this…pool?"
Data, finally realising his Captain was growing to a towering fury, allowed his mouth to open and shut twice before he answered.
"I do not know Captain."
His hands forming fists on the desk, the Captain said through gritted teeth,
"I see Commander. You are dismissed. Please send in Commander Riker."

Will entered the Ready Room tentatively, watching his Captain with a hawk-like intensity. When Jean-Luc didn't register his presence, he cleared his throat nervously.
"Ah Captain? You wanted to see me?"
Lifting one finger and gesturing to the chair, Jean-Luc kept his attention on the desk. Will sat and tried to see under his Captain's brow, growing all the more worried.
"Is there something wrong Captain?"
Finally looking up, Will was shocked at the tightly contained anger in the Captain's face. His voice still with that deadly quiet quality he asked,
"I don't know Commander, perhaps you can tell me."
"Sir?"
Jean-Luc leaned forward, placing his weight on his hands and glaring at Will.
"I've just been informed that there is a betting pool on my ship, dedicated to the prospect of my relationship with Doctor Crusher…specifically whether or not we're…intimate. What do you know of this Commander?"
With a sinking feeling, Will mustered a wan smile.
"Oh Captain…it's nothing really, just some of the crew speculating about the Command Staff…you know how curious the lower decks are."
Standing abruptly, Will winced at the ire directed at him.
"It ceases immediately! I will not have my private life being the stuff of gossip mongering miscreants! AND Commander if such a thing arises in the future you are to quash it instantly! Understood?"
Will stood and straightened to attention.
"Yes Sir!"
He turned to leave but was stilled by his furious Captain's next words.
"And if I find out who was responsible, they will live to regret their actions!"
Looking over his shoulder, Will nodded and swallowed.
"Yes Captain."
As Will left, Jean-Luc slumped into his chair, placed his elbows on the desk and cradled his head in his large hands.
"Fuck! What next?"
Will sat in the Command seat and tapped his combadge.
"Riker to Lieutenant Sawyer."
"Sawyer here Sir."
"Adam I have to see you immediately. Meet me in the gym in five minutes. Riker out."
He stood and handed command to Data. As he left the Bridge Deanna smirked.
"That'll teach you Will."

 

 

 

 

The rest of the shift on the Bridge was tense to say the least. The Captain eventually emerged from his sanctuary still fuming. The crew responded to his tightly contained anger by being super-efficient at their stations. His barked commands were answered immediately, alacrity being the order of the moment. Will had returned from his mission before the Captain came out and spent ten minutes fielding calls from confused and disappointed punters. Finally, he had to direct them to Lieutenant Sawyer and hoped that his Captain never found out just how deeply he was involved with the whole sorry affair.
Four hours of tension passed before Jean-Luc sighed and relaxed slightly. Crossing his legs, he casually studied the read out on his armrest and frowned at what he saw.
"Number One…the aft port quarter shield grid is still down. What seems to be the problem?"
Momentarily caught without an adequate answer, Will cleared his throat and apologised.
"Sorry Captain, I've been off the Bridge for a while. I'll check…"
Jean-Luc frowned and turned to his First Officer.
"You've been here as long as I have."
Will nodded, feeling sweat building down his back.
"Yes Sir, but I had to go below while you were still in the Ready Room."
"To Engineering?"
"No Sir."
Jean-Luc's frown deepened.
"Well perhaps you can tell me what caused you to be absent from the Bridge when we're awaiting important information from Engineering?"
Swallowing hard and wiping his hands down his thighs, Will groped for a suitable answer.
"Ah…I had to see someone Captain."
"See someone? Who? Where? Which department?"
"Oh just Lieutenant Sawyer Captain…in the gym."
Deanna, sensing the Captain was deliberately leading Will to his doom, cleared her throat and broke into the conversation.
"Captain, did I tell you that…"
Without looking at the Counsellor, Jean-Luc held up his hand and silenced her. His eyes boring into the hapless Commander, Jean-Luc adopted his quiet voice. Will wasn't soothed.
"Lieutenant Sawyer? In the gymnasium of all places? Tell me Commander, what was so important that you had to leave the Bridge to see to this matter?"
Will sat up straight and stroked his beard.
"I had to sort something out Captain. It was personal and urgent."
"I see. Are you in the habit of conducting personal matters whilst on duty?"
Shaking his head, Will felt the beginnings of a headache.
"No Sir."
Jean-Luc directed his gaze back to the viewscreen, as Will wilted with relief.
"Good Commander, very good. It's bad form you know…sets a bad example for the crew."
"Yes Sir."
They sat in silence for almost an hour before the Captain leaned over and said sotto voce,
"And Commander, you may inform Lieutenant Sawyer that I won't enter what he did in his permanent record, however any repeat…performances will be dealt with severely."
Will's head had leaned towards his Captain, his eyes screwing shut.
"One more thing Number One…never…never think you can pull one over me, I will always find out."
Will nodded, sitting up straight and shifting in his seat.
"Yes Captain."
Deanna smiled to herself and clasped her hands in her lap. She loved Will but it was amusing to watch him being taken down a peg or two by a true master. Every so often he needed to be put in his place…firmly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of shift, Jean-Luc found himself anticipating his arrival at his quarters with a lighthearted joy. He knew that Beverly would join him as soon as her shift ended and he found he couldn't wait to see her. Deliberately keeping a professional distance while on duty, he looked forward to casting the Captain aside and once again becoming her companion and lover.
He strode into his abode and went straight to his bedroom, shedding his uniform as he went. The shower was quick as was the shave, but he took time to select his clothes, knowing full well that Beverly appreciated the little things he did, like picking clothes he knew she liked.
Soon dressed in snugly fitting dark tan linen slacks and a silk emerald shirt, he chose tan soft leather shoes and stood back to inspect himself in the mirror. Satisfied, he moved to the replicator and pondered over the menu, eventually opting to choose Beverly's favourites.
That done, he replicated a pretty floral centrepiece for the table, then remembering his aftershave, disappeared back into his bathroom. He was patting the lotion on when he heard her voice from the living area.
"Hey? Are you home?"
Taking one final appraisal, he nodded decisively and strode out to greet his best friend.
He stopped just short of her and closed his eyes, his nose picking up the fact that she'd showered and applied his favourite perfume. Opening his eyes, a slow grin emerged as he took in her appearance. Dressed in an azure skirt and a clinging peach top, she was both alluring and demure, a sight that made his heart swell in his chest. She giggled when his eyes noticed she carried her shoes, his eyebrows rising. She stepped closer to him and whispered,
"I like being barefoot."
His grin widened as he slipped out of his own shoes.
"As luck would have it…so do I."
Keeping her eyes riveted on his, Beverly kneeled and retrieved his shoes, holding them in her hand with hers. Lazily arranging her arms over his shoulders, she kissed him softly and sighed when he responded. His hands slid around her waist, pulling her closer and she melded her body to his, dropping the shoes as he deepened the kiss. Her fingers gently played in the short hair on the back of his head and he ran his hands up her back, tangling his fingers in her hair. Feeling their desire rising, they broke the kiss and stood, panting slightly. Jean-Luc found his voice first and it was deep with passion.
"I've been wanting to do that all day."
Eyes still closed, Beverly nuzzled into his neck and sighed.
"Hmm, me too. I found it hard to work…I kept thinking of you…"
He stroked her hair, filling his lungs with her scent.
"Are you hungry?"
She lifted her head, a mischievous gleam in her eyes.
"That depends."
A lascivious grin creeping across his face, he replied,
"On what?"
She stepped back slightly and trailed one finger down his chest and across his evident arousal.
"On what you're offering."
He took her hand and raised it to his mouth, sucking her index finger slowly. She closed her eyes and let her head loll back, drinking in the sensations. He expelled the finger and kissed the inside of her wrist. Muttering, he brought back her attention.
"How about we eat first?"
Her eyes opened and he swelled further seeing the depth of colour evident. Breathily she kissed his lower lip.
"Then what?"
Trying to hold onto his control, Jean-Luc withstood her ministrations.
"Then perhaps we can dance."
"Hmm I'd like that. Did you know, Jean-Luc, you can dance lying down?"
He smiled, delighting in the game.
"Really? I didn't know that. Would you show me how?"
Her arms curled around his head and she purred.
"It would be my pleasure."
They broke apart and he took her hand, leading her to the table. Once seated, he took a few moments to bring the meal to the table, then they began to eat, the sultry looks passing between them enough to heat the room.
Over dessert Jean-Luc suddenly grimaced and Beverly stilled her spoon.
"What?"
He hesitated before filling his spoon and eating another bite. He shook his head sighing.
"Do you know what I found out today?"
Beverly shook her head, not quite sure if he was happy or angry.
"I've no idea."
"I found out there was a betting pool…devoted entirely to whether or not you and I were having sex. Apparently Lieutenant Sawyer from…"
Beverly had lowered her head, her hand trying to cover a stifled giggle.
"Beverly?"
"Oh Jean-Luc…that's old news. It's been going on for ages!"
His eyes hardened and he dropped his spoon.
"What!?"
She reached across the table and took his hand.
"Oh don't worry about it Jean-Luc. Almost every ship has a pool of some description going on. The lower decks…"
"I don't give a flying fuck what the lower decks think about the Command staff! They have no right to set up a betting ring based around my private life!"
Beverly lowered her spoon and fixed him with a glare of her own.
"I think you're forgetting I am in this too you know."
He stopped and closed his eyes.
"Of course you are! And I can't understand why you're not…outraged."
She sat back and pinched the bridge of her nose.
"Because Jean-Luc you can't stop it! People will be people and one of the things people do is speculate about other people. It's normal behaviour."
"Shit Beverly! I…"
"Jean-Luc! Settle down. Look we've been the subject of speculation for ages. We've always spent so much time with each other…it's only natural that suppositions would be made…conclusions would be drawn."
"But…"
She shook her head.
"You keep yourself fairly insulated from the crew, always a bit aloof…and I must admit I've held myself above the gossip too, but that doesn't mean I'm not aware of it. I just…"
He threw down his serviette and grunted.
"Dammit Beverly why didn't you tell me?"
"Because I knew how upset you'd be. I was right too."
"Damn right I'm upset! This is…"
Beverly held up her hand and stopped him.
"I know it is Jean-Luc…but really, what can we do? I suggest we ignore it. It won't make it go away, but you will feel better about it."
He scowled and placed his hands on the table, making a concerted effort not to fist them.
In a quieter voice he said,
"Will was in on it you know."
Beverly chuckled and tilted her head.
"I would've been surprised if he wasn't. He's always had a good relationship with the lower decks."
Jean-Luc harrumphed and shook his head.
"You should've seen his face when I confronted him with it."
Beverly's chuckle grew to a laugh and Jean-Luc joined her. The tension melted away and he stood, coming around the table to take her hand.
"Enough of this unpleasantness. Dance with me?"
She rose with sinuous grace and settled into his arms. Jean-Luc raised his head and said,
"Computer play Picard selection five."
Gentle music descended on them as they took up the slow rhythm. Beverly nestled her head into his shoulder and he pulled her close, their bodies moving as one. They danced for half an hour letting the sexual tension build before retiring to the bedroom and making the most extraordinary love into the small hours of the morning.

 

 

The next morning found Jean-Luc in Engineering. Closing his eyes he frowned.
"Tell me again Geordi. Do we have a full shield grid or not?"
The Chief Engineer sighed.
"At the moment yes, we have a full grid. But I haven't tracked down the glitch and, as a consequence, I can't guarantee that it won't reappear."
The Captain folded his arms across his chest and scowled.
"I take it you've run all the appropriate diagnostics?"
"Yes Captain and then some. I've had my staff turn the system upside down…but we just can't identify it."
"All right…worse case scenario. I call for shields…what might happen?"
The dark Engineer shook his head.
"I honestly don't know Captain. Judging by our readouts, everything should be fine, but I can't…"
"Guarantee it. Very well Commander, keep on it and report any findings directly to the Bridge. We…"
The call came through with urgent tones.
"Captain Picard to the Bridge!"
"On my way, Picard out."
Without a backward glance the Captain hurried to the nearest turbolift and within minutes he strode onto the Bridge.
"Report!"
Will stood and faced his Captain.
"We're picking up a distress signal. It's very faint and coming from the interior of the nebula."
"Coordinates?"
"It puts it very close to the last known assault."
Jean-Luc looked up at Tactical and asked,
"Visual?"
"Negative Sir, audio only. It appears to be an automated message…they're not responding to our hails."
"ETA?"
Will crossed to the Con and turned to his CO.
"At present speed, three and a half hours."
Jean-Luc frowned and came to a decision.
"Increase to warp eight."
"Aye Sir. ETA now…twelve minutes Captain."
Will glanced at the Captain, receiving a small nod.
"Red alert! Shields up!"
They sat in tense anticipation as the great ship cleaved her way through the boiling mass of the nebula. Undue haste was dangerous within the confines of the gasses, but that very haste may well be the salvation of another ship. Silence weighed heavily on the crew as they approached the coordinates. All too soon, Tactical called out,
"Within eight thousand kilometres Captain."
"Drop to one quarter impulse and bring us to within two hundred kilometres of the ship."
"Aye Sir."
More minutes passed before the Ensign said,
"Two hundred kilometres Captain.
"All stop. On screen."
Through the swirling miasma that floated between the ships, the crew of the Enterprise saw a sorry sight. A cargo vessel, battered and venting plasma slowly rotated through her axis, adrift and seemingly un-powered.
"Hail them."
All on the Bridge heard the characteristic chirp of an open channel. The answering static was loud.
"No response Sir."
Jean-Luc stood and walked closer to the screen as if to better see the stricken ship.
"Scan the entire ship."
"Aye Captain."
Will came over to his Captain and said softly,
"This appears recent. We may have interrupted the assailants."
"Indeed Number One. In fact…"
"Captain? Their warp core has been ejected and the life support is failing. I read…twenty six life forms aboard, some bio signs are severely depressed."
Tapping the back of his hand against Will's chest, Jean-Luc said,
"Take an away team Number One. See if you can stabilise the vessel and bring the wounded over here."
"Aye Captain."
As the big man strode for the lift, he raised his head and addressed the computer.
"Geordi, Beverly, meet me in Transporter Room four for away team duty."
Their replies were instant and Jean-Luc's heart missed a beat when he heard Beverly's voice. He momentarily closed his eyes, his jaw clenching.
"Keep safe my love."

 

 

 

 

 

Will deployed his tricorder and swept it in an arc around him. Gesturing to the three security staff, they fanned out and cautiously started to make their way through the smoky corridors. Beverly stayed behind Will, her own instrument recording distant life signs.
"Through here."
They came across the first body, the head almost completely severed from the body. Blood had spread across the deck and the team had no option but to walk through it.
Geordi scanned the interior of an open ODN line and called to Will,
"I'll take Powers and get to Engineering."
Will nodded and called back,
"Keep you communicator open at all times and report as soon as you can."
"I will. See you Commander."
The two disappeared into the smoke and the four remaining officers forged ahead.
The first survivor was lying unconscious in the doorway of what appeared to be a rec room. Beverly knelt beside the woman and scanned her.
"Not good Will. Burns, concussion and several broken bones. Someone has used her as a punching bag."
Will helped the Doctor to her feet and called his ship.
"Enterprise, one to beam directly to Sickbay. Pick up the signal beside Doctor Crusher."
"Aye Sir. Energising…"
The figure shimmered and disappeared in a wave of sparkling blue light. Still scanning, they pressed on.
Two and a half hours later they had transported seventeen patients to the Enterprise. Reaching the Bridge, they found the Captain, disembowelled, his body displayed over his Command chair.
Will tapped his communicator.
"Riker to Picard."
"Picard here."
"Captain we've found the Commander of this ship…he's dead Sir."
"I see. How many more…"
Communication was severed abruptly as the Enterprise was attacked from behind. With shields down to allow for transporting, she took several telling hits before the defensive shields went up.
On the Enterprise Bridge, in near darkness, Jean-Luc picked himself up and barked,
"Target the adversary and fire all phasers!"
The ship defended herself stoutly, scoring many hits of her own. The attacker turned and swooped down, suddenly blinking out of existence.
Jean-Luc glared at the screen and shouted,
"Where the hell are they?"
The Ensign at Tactical gaped at his board and stammered,
"They're gone Sir! I can't…"
Another volley of shots hit home and the Enterprise shuddered under the onslaught. The lights flickered then gained strength, the crew taking heart. Gaining his seat, Jean-Luc wiped at the blood running down his face and called,
"Fire torpedoes and phasers, full spread, over the entire axis!"
"Aye Sir."
As the ship hurled her weapons into space, Tactical shouted,
"We've hit them Captain! Their cloak is down…they're coming about…"
The Enterprise lurched and two consoles exploded as the ship took a direct hit at close range. Jean-Luc was about to issue commands to counter the attack when Tactical shouted,
"Shields are down! Structural integrity failing in decks nine through thirteen."
Jean-Luc shook his head, his ears ringing.
"Evacuate those decks! Helm, come about and target…"
The ship shuddered again as more energy seared her hull. Jean-Luc was tipped from his chair and lay sprawled on the deck, stunned. The Lieutenant from Ops ran to his side but he waved her away, getting shakily to his feet.
"Where are they?"
The Ensign at Tactical was holding his arm, his shoulder obviously dislocated. Wincing through tears, he looked at his display.
"Behind us Captain. They're preparing to fire again…"
"Aft quantum torpedoes! Fire!"
The Ensign stabbed his finger down and unleashed the fury of their most devastating weapon. The glare of the exploding ordinance silhouetted everyone on the Bridge as the attacker overshot them and staggered in a shaky turn. Hesitating only a millisecond, the alien ship altered course and swooped down on the derelict cargo vessel. It hovered over it some moments before rising and engaging their cloak. As the ship shimmered and disappeared, Jean-Luc slammed his fist down on the armrest of his chair and snapped,
"What did they do?"
To make him heard over the hissing and spluttering of damaged consoles going on around him, the Ensign at Tactical cleared his throat.
"They beamed off the away team Captain."
Jean-Luc stood abruptly and spun to face the Ensign.
"What? Do we have engines?"
"No Captain."
"What about shields?"
The Ensign sadly shook his head.
"No Sir."
Jean-Luc spun back to the viewscreen and stared at the hulk spinning slowly in space.
"Beverly!"

 

 

 

 

 

The away team had only a moment to register the fact that they'd been transported when they re-materialised on the alien ship. Will spun around and raised his hands in an effort to appease his captors. He got a glimpse of a being in an evac suit when a weapon was raised and aimed squarely at him. Beverly called a warning, but the being fired, rendering the Commander senseless on the floor. Geordi cried out and attempted to shield the Doctor as the being shifted its aim, but within seconds all of the team lay unconscious on the deck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some time later, Geordi groaned and rolled to his side, gripping his stomach and retching violently. Around him, he could hear similar sounds of distress as the others slowly wakened. The nausea abated in increments leaving him weak and headachy. The cool hand that felt his brow was welcomed.
"Doc?"
Her voice strained, Beverly answered,
"Yes Geordi, it's me."
"Doc where's my visor? Can you see it?"
Strong hands helped him to sit up and his keen sense of smell identified Will.
"Commander where are we?"
Will looked over at the three Ensigns that comprised the security detail and nodded as they sat up and shook their heads. In the low lighting, he watched as Beverly searched for the visor, his face grim.
"We're in some sort of holding cell. There's a door, locked no doubt and no windows, in fact there's no furniture at all."
Geordi rubbed his temples, wincing as he did.
"What the hell did they use?"
Will sighed and grimaced at his sore ribs.
"My guess would be compressed particle beams."
"That figures. I feel like I've been kicked by a warp breach."
One of the Ensigns, noticing Beverly poking about, joined her in her search. In minutes she asked,
"Doctor Crusher? I think I found it."
Beverly went to the woman and smiled gratefully as she recognised Geordi's visor. Moving to the Engineer, she took his hands and placed the device in them. He felt the visor, frowning as he detected minor changes evident. Clicking it into place, he shook his head, his hands coming up to settle the device closer over his sightless eyes. Beverly was concerned.
"What is it Geordi?"
"Something's wrong Doc. I'm getting weird signals…everything's skewed."
Will's worried voice came from close by.
"Can you see at all?"
Geordi concentrated for a moment then sighed.
"It's not sight as I'm used to but I can discern shapes. The colours are all wrong and the electro-magnetic field is completely screwed up, but yes, I can see…in a fashion."
Will stood and went to the door, running his fingertips across the seams.
"Geordi can you detect any weaknesses in the metal? Any flaws we can exploit?"
Standing on shaky legs, the Engineer stumbled to the door and inspected it thoroughly. Sighing, he turned to his Commander.
"No Sir, I can't see anything that might help. It appears solid."
Beverly gently gripped his shoulders and guided him to a seat on the floor. Over her shoulder she said,
"Come on Will, sit down, it's going to take a while for the effects of the beams to dissipate. We need to conserve our strength."
Grunting his acceptance, Will joined the others on the floor, rubbing a hand across his neck.
"I wonder how long it will be before one of our captors decides to…interview us."
Beverly brushed her hair back and sighed.
"There's nothing we can do about it Will. For now just rest."
In her mind, she thought of her lover.
"Where are you Jean-Luc?"

 

 

 

 

 

Two hours later The Captain scowled as Doctor Selar closed his facial wound and fused the broken bones in two of his fingers. The wounded crew of the Bridge had been replaced and Jean-Luc was anxious to get his ship underway. Waving away the hovering Doctor, he addressed the Computer.
"Picard to Engineering."
"Engineering here Captain. Lieutenant Skyler reporting."
"How soon Lieutenant? When can we restart the engines?"
"We're just re-actuating the crystals now Captain. We should be underway in twenty minutes."
"And weapons?…shields?"
"We're working on it Sir. There was a lot of damage wrought when the shields went down. I think I can give you sixty-five percent of phasers but torpedo launching is iffy at best. As for the shields, I think we can raise almost all of them within the hour."
Jean-Luc frowned and sighed.
"Almost all Lieutenant?"
"Aye Captain. The aft port quarter shield grid won't respond…I can't figure it out, everything seems to be ok, but…"
"There seems to be a glitch. Very well Lieutenant do what you can. I want to be under way as soon as possible. Call me when we're ready to engage the engines."
"Aye Captain."
The Captain watched as the medical team packed away their equipment and left the Bridge. He slowly walked around the stations, noting with concern the amount of damage. Stopping at the Science Station he said over Data's shoulder,
"Where do you think they've gone Mr.Data?"
Straightening, the android officer turned and faced his Captain.
"I would anticipate the anomalous class H planet Captain. I have extrapolated a flight path, using the other assaults as a guide and I have come to the conclusion that they will withdraw to the planet…or close to it."
Jean-Luc studied the star map and considered his officer's words carefully.
"Have you calculated a course?"
"Yes Captain."
Jean-Luc stood in silence, his thoughts at war with his heart. Data, watching his CO closely, noticed how the Captain rubbed his lower lip with the tips of his fingers, knowing this indicated deep introspection. His curiosity got the better of him.
"Captain Picard you do not seem to share my conclusions."
Jean-Luc's eyes settled on Data, his expression unreadable.
"Why do you say that Data?"
Cocking his head, the android answered,
"Given your previous established reactions when faced with a problem, you usually come to a decision quickly, a course of action soundly in place. You appear, in this instance, to be hesitating."
Jean-Luc sighed, closed his eyes briefly and gripped Data's shoulder.
"Data…what I do now may have repercussion far beyond what we may envisage. If I choose the wrong course we may loose our away team…more ships could be attacked while we run off on a wild goose chase. There is much at stake here my friend."
Through his in depth study of Human nature, Data understood that which the Captain didn't articulate. Along with his ingrained sense of responsibility for his crew, foremost in the Captain's mind was Beverly. He was acutely aware that a wrong decision could spell her death and it was paralysing him. In what he hoped was a quietly supportive voice Data said,
"No matter what happens Captain…she will understand. You must do your duty…as she must do hers."
Raising his head sharply, Jean-Luc was about to castigate his officer but the expression on the android's face softened his heart. Summoning a grim smile, the Captain nodded and again squeezed Data's shoulder. Nothing more was said as the Captain returned to the Command chair, settling down to wait for the call from Engineering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Engineering to the Bridge."
Jean-Luc sat up, his eyes glittering.
"Bridge here."
"Skyler again Captain. You have warp and impulse engines, but I wouldn't advise exceeding warp four Sir…things might get a little scary if you do."
"Understood Lieutenant. What about weapons and shields?"
"We've got the phasers to eighty-three percent and I think we'll have all but the aft port quarter shields up within the hour. We have forward torpedoes, but we're still working on the aft chutes."
"Very good Lieutenant. Thank you, Bridge out. Helm do you have the course laid in?"
"Aye Captain."
"Then move us off at warp two. Engage."
The Captain left his seat and peered at the stars as they elongated and began streaking past the viewscreen. Deep in thought, he didn't hear Data's approach.
"Captain?"
He blinked and tilted his head.
"Yes Mr.Data?"
"It will take us four point eight hours to reach the planet. Will you not get some rest?"
His eyes came to rest on the concerned visage of his Second Officer. Jean-Luc smiled and shook his head.
"Have you been taking lessons Data?"
"Lessons Captain?"
His smile broadening at the innocent look on the android's face, Jean-Luc elaborated.
"Will Riker lessons. You sound just like him."
Data's eyebrows rose and he cocked his head.
"While I do not deliberately seek to emulate the Commander so closely, I am gratified that my efforts to look after you are taken so well. But the suggestion still has merit Captain. Will you take the opportunity to rest…please…Sir?"
Sighing to cover the slight irritation he felt, Jean-Luc lowered his head and closed his eyes. Slowly nodding he muttered,
"Very well Data, I will rest…in my Ready Room."
He looked up then and drilled Data with his piercing hazel eyes.
"Any new information however…"
"I will wake you immediately Captain."
Satisfied, Jean-Luc took one final glance around the Bridge, then strode to his Ready Room, the doors whispering shut behind him. He stood within his sanctuary and turned to the replicator, but stilled his feet and shook his head.
"No I don't need tea."
Turning again he looked over the sofa and approached it slowly. Sitting, he swung his legs up and made himself comfortable, lying back along the length of the couch, his head resting on the padded end. His eyes already beginning to droop, he muttered to the computer,
"Computer alert me in…four hours."
"Alert will be given in four hours. Affirmative."
It was the last sound he heard as he slipped into sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The six prisoners sat quietly on the floor in the dimly lit cell. Conversation had ground to a halt, their speculations and guesses getting them nowhere. Will had called for some silence, hoping to get some much needed rest and was surprised when Beverly had argued with him, suggesting it was healthier for them to express their views, rather than dwell on their fears. He, in a fit of pique, overrode her opinion and used his rank to get his way. It made for tension amongst the group, Geordi sensing it perhaps with more acuity.
The door suddenly cracked and there was a wheezing exchange of atmosphere through the gaps around it. The occupants scrabbled to their feet and faced the door, Will gesturing for the others to stand behind him. With a loud creak, the door swung inwards and three aliens entered. As before, they were clad in evac suits, the bulky garments obscuring their bodies. They were, at least superficially, Humanoid, with two legs and two arms, one head and with what appeared to be forward facing eyes. The faceplates of their helmets were opaque, giving only a glimpse of a dark interior. While two of the aliens aimed blasters at the captives, another scanned them with a hand-held instrument. With rough pushes and curt gestures, each individual was scanned thoroughly. When the examination was over, the aliens conversed, a high-pitched chirping audible to the Humans. The two with the blasters stepped forward menacingly and separated Geordi and Beverly, taking them by the arms and shoving them towards the door. Will held up his hands and said as mildly as he could,
"Hey! Come on there's no need to take any of them. If you want somebody…take me. I'm in charge of this group…they answer to me."
He would've said more, but one of the aliens brandished a blaster at his head, a threatening buzzing sound emanating from the being. He kept his hands in the air and tried once more.
"Please we pose no threat! Leave them alone and take me!"
The backhander across his face was unexpected and the big man staggered backwards, one of the Ensigns catching him. Using the disturbance in their favour, the aliens quickly exited the cell, taking their captives with them. The clanging door was very loud in the otherwise quiet room. Will rushed to the door and pounded his fists against it.
"Hey! Come back you bastards! I want to talk to you!"
He smashed his fists against the door again and suddenly an electrical charge slithered across its metal surface. Will's body stiffened and shook, his head straining back on his neck. Shivering in a grotesque rictus, the charge abruptly ceased and he was thrown back across the cell, slamming up against the wall. The Ensigns went to him and checked his vital signs, relieved to find a pulse and respiration. Blood trickled from his mouth and nose and he shook his head groggily. With help, he sat up and cradled his head in his hands.
"What the hell was that?"
One of the Ensigns, Antonio Baretti, swallowed and cast a worried glance at the door.
"It seemed to be an electrical charge Commander. I don't think they want us pounding on the door."
Will grunted and spat out some blood.
"Do tell Ensign?"
Groaning and feeling every joint in his body, Will struggled to his feet, then bent over and grasped his thighs, taking some deep breaths. When he'd regained his senses, he straightened and nodded.
"Ok we do it by their rules. Come on, let's sit on the floor and try to stay calm."

 

 

 

 

 

Exactly four hours after issuing his request, the computer woke Jean-Luc with a gentle chime, followed by,
"Captain Picard, as requested I am alerting you."
His eyes snapped open and he sat up slowly, easing the kinks out of his neck.
"Computer, cease alert."
"Alert ceased."
He stood and stretched, wandered into the toilet and emptied his bladder, washed and dried his face and hands and was requesting a cup of Earl Grey when his door chime sounded.
"Come."
Data walked in and smiled as he saw his Captain take his customary seat behind his desk.
"I hope you rested well Captain."
Sipping his tea and briefly closing his eyes in appreciation, Jean-Luc looked up at his friend.
"I rested well thank you Data. Is there any news?"
Gesturing to the seat, Data nodded and sat, placing his hands on the desktop.
"Engineering reports the aft torpedo chute is operational again and phasers are all but one hundred percent efficient. The aft port quarter shield grid is still not operational, but we do have full shields everywhere else."
Jean-Luc frowned and studied the steam rising from his tea.
"It's quite likely we will taste battle again Data. It will hamper us if we have a section of the ship unprotected. I'm sure our enemy will try to seize an advantage by attacking our weakness. Have you given any thought to the problem?"
Data frowned and shrugged his shoulders.
"I did do some preliminary work on the problem whilst Geordi was still aboard, but since his departure I have devoted myself to the current mystery."
Nodding, Jean-Luc placed his mug on the table and leaned forward.
"I want your continued input on our current mission Data, but I also want you to apply your extraordinary abilities to unravelling what is turning out to be a very vexing problem. We need full shields!…and soon."
Data straightened and nodded.
"Yes Captain. I will see to it immediately."
Nodding his dismissal, Jean-Luc was staring at the desktop when Data paused inside the door.
"Captain Picard?"
Jean-Luc looked up, his eyebrow questioning.
"Yes Data?"
"We will find them Sir."
Jean-Luc mustered a small smile and nodded.
"Make it so Mr.Data."
The doors swished shut, leaving him to his thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

Beverly and Geordi were pushed and prodded through the alien ship, their attempts and conversing ignored. Entering a brightly lit room, Beverly couldn't stop an involuntary shudder as she saw what appeared to be two examination tables. Glowing grey steel with restraints, they sat in the centre of the room, upright but slightly reclined. Without warning, one of the aliens stepped forward and gripped her uniform collar, tearing it downwards so violently, it almost pulled her off her feet.
"Hey!"
The indignant Doctor grabbed its hand and tried to pry it loose. The sudden appearance of a blaster aimed at her head stilled her hands and the alien continued to tug and pull at her uniform.
She held up her hands and tried to sound reasonable.
"Hey look…do you want me to take off my uniform? No problem…see?"
Her hands went to the fasteners and she undid the top, taking it off and dropping it to the floor. When the alien gestured further, she continued to strip, eventually standing in nothing but her panties. The alien pushed her and grabbed her underwear, she yelped as the garment was torn from her body. Now completely naked, Beverly dropped her hands to her sides and raised her chin defiantly.
"Now what?"
Geordi was assaulted next, his resistance curtailed by Beverly's pleas.
"Geordi don't resist…please. They have weapons and appear eager to use them. Just strip off and ignore them."
The Engineer snarled but acquiesced, studiously ignoring the naked Doctor. When one of the aliens stepped up and wrenched his visor from his face, his hands came up and he lashed out.
"No! Give that back…I can't see without it!"
He was slapped across his face, the blow all the more telling, as he didn't see it coming. Staggering, an alien roughly held him up and a blaster was put to his temple. The alien gestured to Beverly and she understood.
"They want you to be quiet Geordi, just go along with whatever they want. I'll try to figure out what we can do."
The dark man nodded, wiping at the blood that trickled from his nose. With sudden, rough movements, they were forced to lie on the tables and the restraints applied. The aliens then situated themselves against the walls, seeming to wait for something. In the ominous silence, Beverly closed her eyes and let her thoughts wander to her lover.
"If I die my love, my last thoughts will be of you…I promise."

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc's thoughts were also on his love. Although he appeared to be concentrating on a readout, his eyes betrayed his thoughts, their usual bright intensity dulled as he let his mind recall her. It was Data's gentle enquiry that brought him back with a start.
"What?"
"I am sorry Captain, I did not mean to startle you."
The Captain sat up straighter and sniffed.
"You didn't startle me Data…I was…wool gathering."
"Wool Gathering Sir?"
"Yes it's…what is it Commander?"
Filing the term away for later study, the android reapplied himself to his Captain.
"We are approaching the planet Captain."
"Already? Drop to one-quarter impulse and adopt a standard orbit. How efficient will our sensors be Data?"
Data considered the question and calculated his response.
"We should achieve a satisfactory influx of information Captain, although the use of the viewscreen will be severely impeded."
"Very well, begin scans as soon as we're in orbit."
"Aye Captain."
"And Data, I want all you have on the planet…route it to the Ready Room terminal. You have the Bridge."
"Yes Sir."
Jean-Luc walked into his office deep in thought.
"Dammit…with their cloak they could be right on top of us and we wouldn't know. What is it about this planet?"
He took his seat and turned the monitor to face him, stabbing the instrument on with stiff fingers. For over half an hour he read all he could about the planet and, when he was finished, sat back and ran his hands over his head. As far as expounding on what he already knew…he was still in the dark. There just didn't seem to be anything unusual or sinister about the planet. It rotated slowly below them, seeming innocuous, yet ominous by its very presence. Shaking his head with frustration, he turned off the monitor with more force than was necessary and left his office, tugging down on his jacket.
"Report Mr.Data."
"Scans are complete Captain and there is nothing of importance to relate. There are no ships, structures or underground instillations that we can detect. The planet is devoid of life and has not been visited, at least by warp-capable vessels, for over three standard years."
Jean-Luc frowned and paced a small circle, his fingers rubbing his lower lip.
"No ships that we can detect Data What about ships we can't detect? Remember we were recently attacked by a ship that didn't show up on our sensors…it could be right alongside and we wouldn't know."
Data tilted his head and considered his Captain's words.
"You are correct Captain, but how does that help us?"
Folding his arms over his chest, Jean-Luc pursed his lips.
"We need to alter our sensors. We need to be able to scan for that which we can't see."
"But how Captain? We do not even know if there is anything to scan for."
Jean-Luc lowered his head and sighed.
"It's just a hunch Data. Your Captain is clutching at straws and he needs you to come up with a miracle. Can you do it?"
Data stared at his CO, his remarkable positronic brain formulating then discarding responses at a phenomenal rate. In a few seconds he replied.
"I will do my best Sir."
Jean-Luc stepped forward and gripped his shoulder.
"Thank you Mr.Data."
He then sat in the Command chair and tried to peer through the thick soup of the planet's atmosphere. Data turned and went to the Science Station his dancing fingers entering information with breathtaking sped and precision.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beverly's heart missed a beat when the door suddenly opened and two more aliens stepped into the room. Although clad in evac suits, they were different from the others, lighter and less bulky. The aliens went to Geordi and scanned his head, paying particular attention to his eyes. Standing each side of the Engineer, Beverly couldn't turn her clamped head to see what they were doing. When Geordi cried out she shouted,
"What are you doing to him? Leave him alone!"
Geordi began to yell, beseeching them to stop.
"No! Stop it hurts! No!"
He screamed then and Beverly struggled within her restraints.
"Stop it! Leave him alone! Geordi? Can you hear me?"
The aliens straightened and scanned him again, his quiet sobbing loud in the otherwise silent room.
"Geordi…can you hear me?"
His voice was broken.
"Yes Doc."
"What did they do?"
He sniffed and gulped.
"I don't know…I think they put something in my eyes…it hurt Doc."
Beverly was about to ask another question when the aliens left Geordi and surrounded her. Her mouth suddenly dry she tried to talk to them.
"Look I'm a Doctor. Just ask me what you need to know and I'll tell you. There's no need to hurt us."
She saw a shiny instrument near her neck and tensed as she felt the prick of a needle. A burning sensation accompanied the passage of a drug into her system and, after a few moments, she felt her limbs no longer under her control.
"Wha…?"
Although her mind stayed sharp, she lost control of her body. She felt a scanner being placed over her lower abdomen and gasped as a probe was inserted vaginally. She endured the invasion, tears flowing unheeded from her eyes. The alien withdrew some fluid from her uterus and turned to a machine, entering the specimen and beginning what was obviously an analysis. An image appeared on the screen, but Beverly couldn't see it. The aliens conversed with each other, going back to Beverly and strapping a monitor across her lower abdomen. They withdrew the probe and turned their attention to her right arm. Picking up a blade, the alien sliced into her forearm cutting deeply and cleanly. Beverly shouted incoherently, unable to articulate her distress. While one alien held the cut open, the other delved into the laceration with tweezers. It removed a small shiny cylinder and held it up to the light. The other alien retrieved a swab and cleaned the blood from the object. They then went to the machine and placed the object on a tray, sliding the whole thing into the machine. They then turned to Geordi and cut into his forearm, the Engineer yelling and writhing. Extracting a similar object from him, they went to his groin and inserted a probe anally. He groaned then his body flexed as a charge was sent through the probe. He ejaculated and the aliens removed the probe. They collected the semen and put it into the machine, the high-pitched chirping of their communication dominating the room.
After several instructions were entered into the machine, the two aliens went to Beverly and again injected her. As they were leaving, one bent over and gripped her chin, forcing her mouth open. It studied the interior of her mouth then let her go and left.
Beverly felt her control over her body slowly returning and she called out to her friend,
"Geordi are you all right?"
"Yeah…I think so. What was that all about?"
"What did they do to you?"
"Well, I think they removed my contraceptive implant…and they made me…ejaculate."
"They took mine too and I think they took some samples…internal samples from me."
"Gee Doc...what the hell do they want?"
Beverly sighed and winced as her forearm throbbed.
"I've no idea Geordi."

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc alternated his time between sitting morosely in his Command chair, and impatiently stalking about the Bridge, making the already tense crew more on edge. He stopped behind Data and watched as the Second Officer inputted some more information. As he read, Jean-Luc developed a deep frown.
"Data? What the hell is this?"
Pointing to an unfamiliar chemical symbol, Jean-Luc waited for Data's reply.
"It is an enigma Captain. For the past one point five hours I have been trying to understand how that particular chemical could be present in this atmosphere."
"Why?"
"It is not supposed to be here Captain. It is called Maridum and, as far as I can understand, it is found only in the Gamma quadrant…and then only in miniscule amounts."
Jean-Luc stood up and scratched his chin, feeling the roughness of an evening beard.
"Then how did it get here?"
"Unknown Captain, but I have been experimenting with tachyons and how they interact with the chemical."
"To what end?"
"Well Sir, according to the recent paper of one Ezri Eberhaus, maridum could be a bi-product of a form of propulsion, as yet unknown to us."
Jean-Luc scowled.
"Then how could he postulate…"
"It has something to do with the way the chemical reacts with dilithium. He proposed that the maridum could, in fact, take the place of anti-matter."
"So what you're saying is…?"
"It could indicate the presence of a ship Captain."
The Captain spent some slow seconds staring into his officer's golden eyes. He bent over and peered at the symbol on the screen as if by sheer will alone he could make it divulge its secrets.
"How will you use the tachyons?"
Data turned to the screen and entered a new set of instructions. An image appeared and Jean-Luc focussed his attention.
"Watch the maridum as I bombard it with tachyons."
At first little occurred, then suddenly there was a bright flare as the maridum expanded and glowed. Data said over his shoulder,
"If it is indeed true that this chemical is present in the propulsion system of a ship, it would appear that it is hard to contain…that it escapes in small quantities to pollute the surrounding atmosphere. If we systematically saturate the upper atmosphere with a sustained tachyon burst, it is my belief we may uncover the ship we seek."
Jean-Luc straightened and ran his hand over his head.
"And what of the planet? Will it have any adverse effects?"
"No Captain. Tachyons occur naturally and dissipate quickly. I foresee no problem with this course of action."
"How long will you need?"
Data darkened the screen and brought up a new schematic.
"I will need to scan for the highest concentration of maridum, then liase with Engineering to focus the tachyon burst. I envisage approximately three hours Captain."
Jean-Luc stared at the screen for a moment and nodded decisively.
"Make it so Mr.Data."
While Data fed a search pattern to the Con, Jean-Luc took his seat and checked the ship's status on the screens in the armrests. Satisfied his ship was operating efficiently he settled down to wait.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The aliens present against the walls in the room remained silent as Beverly and Geordi continued to talk quietly. The Engineer had managed to turn his head a little and gasped when he realised he could vaguely discern her profile. Barely more than a silhouette, he nonetheless swallowed and spoke in an awed voice.
"Hey Doc?"
"Yes Geordi."
"I can see…a little bit."
Beverly's body stiffened and she strained to turn her head.
"What?"
"It's nothing more than contrasts of light and dark, but I can definitely see something."
Thinking furiously, Beverly came to the only conclusion she could.
"Do you think it has something to do with what they did to your eyes?"
"Must be Doc…I can't think of anything else."
They were both silent for a while. Beverly blinked slowly and said,
"You know this changes things a bit. Maybe they want to help?"
Geordi digested that and then asked,
"But why take the reproductive samples? What are they trying to do…create a baby?"
Beverly's sigh was loud and frustrated.
"Dammit Geordi I don't know! But the fact that they've tried to repair your sight…surely that's a good sign?"
"Maybe Doc but I'd be a damn sight happier if they stopped poking things where they didn't belong."
Her chuckle cheered him.
"Oh I agree Geordi…wholeheartedly!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will was not amused when a party of aliens entered and brandished their blasters threateningly. One by one they were scanned again and one of the Ensigns was singled out and held securely against the wall. The others were herded to the other side of the room and a tense silence descended. Eventually two more aliens entered, dressed in slightly different evac suits and approached the restrained Ensign. Her sleeve was torn from her uniform and a blade was used to cut open her right forearm. She yelled and struggled until she was slapped forcefully and a blaster placed at her temple. The second alien produced some tweezers and plucked out her implant. She was then released and the aliens left.
Will comforted the traumatised young woman, pressing down on the wound to stem the bleeding. They crowded around her, Ensign Tobias muttering,
"Well that was weird."
Will grunted and suggested they all sit again. He looked at his crew, his brow creased in worry.
"I don't get it. We all have contraceptive implants…don't we?"
He received nods all round.
"Then why take Sally's? Why not mine…or yours?"
They looked at each other in bewilderment. Will raised Sally's chin and asked,
"Are you all right now?"
She nodded, sighing and removing his hand, replacing it with her own. Will rubbed his fingers through his beard.
"How long have you had the implant?"
"I only had it recently put in Sir. It wasn't until I received my first posting to a Starship that I thought it was necessary. On the Star bases you can use the temporary patches…you know?"
Will nodded and tilted his head.
"So how long?"
"Just over a month Sir."
"What about the rest of you?"
Tobias and Antonio looked at each other, both shrugging. Antonio said,
"I've had mine about six months."
"Me too. What about you Sir?"
Will shook his head.
"Oh hell…years!"
Sally sighed and frowned.
"Maybe they wanted mine because I'm female?"
Will sighed, shaking his head.
"Well we can only wait and see Ensign."
They sat in the dim light, this new development to their captivity lancing fear through their bones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Captain Picard?"
Jean-Luc stood and faced his officer.
"Yes Data."
"I believe we are ready to begin the tachyon bursts Captain."
"Very goon Commander. On screen."
He turned and stepped closer to the viewscreen his body showing the tension he felt.
"Initiating the bursts now Captain."
At first there was nothing to discern, the swirling grey gasses almost impenetrable. Jean-Luc frowned and folded his arms across his chest.
"Can we get better penetration with the screen?"
The Lieutenant at Tactical replied,
"I'll try Captain but the range will be limited."
The Captain nodded and turned back to the screen, scowling when there seemed to be no difference. He sighed and rubbed his face. Data's voice carried down from behind him.
"This may take some time Captain. Perhaps you should regain your seat?"
Giving a curt nod, Jean-Luc settled himself in his chair and glared balefully at the screen, wishing not for the first time, that he could speed up time.

 

When the two differently clad aliens returned to their room, both Humans tensed. The monitor that had been strapped to Beverly's lower abdomen was removed and a fine needle inserted while the aliens watched a screen intently. Beverly gritted her teeth and willed her body to be still as the procedure went on, breathing a sigh of relief when the needle was withdrawn. One of the aliens went to her head, the other brought the screen closer to her, gesturing for her to look at it. At first confused with the unfamiliar readings, she concentrated and squinted at the grainy image, her breath suddenly catching in her throat.
"Oh my God!"
Geordi was immediately alarmed.
"Doc? Beverly? What is it?"
The aliens pushed the screen away and brought over another screen, which clearly showed immotile sperm. Beverly frowned, shaking her head.
"No…he's not fertile. The implant has rendered him sterile."
The first image was returned and Beverly shook her head.
"I don't know how! I'm supposed to be infertile too!"
"Doc…what is it?"
Her irritated growl silenced the Engineer.
"I'm bloody pregnant!"
Issuing a stream of high-pitched chirrups, the aliens went to Geordi and released him. Immediately three guards stepped forward and roughly pushed him to the wall, proffering their weapons and encouraging him to dress. He did so reluctantly, his eyes darting to the restrained Doctor.
"Hey Doc? They seem to be releasing me."
Beverly sighed and tried to keep her spirits up.
"Good for you Geordi! Tell Will…"
She was stopped mid-word by a rough gloved hand that firmly gripped her chin. The alien squeezed painfully, bringing tears to her eyes. She blinked her acquiescence and the hand was removed. Geordi was pushed through the door and the alien brought over another screen. Blinking to clear her eyes, Beverly concentrated and eventually sighed.
"It's one of my eggs. Look it's not…ripe. Because I'm pregnant my egg production has halted. You can't use that egg. Do you understand?"
The aliens conversed with each other and shifted their equipment closer to the now empty table. They then went to the wall, clasped their hands in front of them and silently waited, for what Beverly didn't know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Data began another sweep for the elusive maridum. Although present in much of the atmosphere, he sought a concentration…a tell tale of a hidden ship. His golden eyes never left the screen, but his remarkable brain was monitoring another screen, this one connected to Engineering. He suddenly straightened and moved to the auxiliary screen. Tapping in several commands, he cocked his head and frowned. Making three more checks, he stood and quietly gained Jean-Luc's attention.
"Captain Picard?"
Jean-Luc stood and pulled down on his jacket.
"Yes Data?"
"Sir I believe I have found why the aft port quarter shield grid is malfunctioning."
His eyebrows raised, The Captain soon joined the android at the monitor.
"Report Data."
"Captain when we first encountered the Romulan War Bird…Commander Ralok of the T' Ronne…I believe they attempted to infect our computer with a virus. It was sent in a jacketed beam, hidden within their scanners. When our firewall detected the virus, it shut down the affected part and re-initialised the computer. To date the computer has been unable to rid itself of the corrupted files."
"So what can we do?"
"I suggest Captain, that we do a controlled shut down and re-start. It should rectify the problem."
Jean-Luc studied his boots before bringing his head up and sighing.
"How long Mr.Data?"
"An hour Captain."
Scowling, he rubbed his chin.
"And we can't continue our search until we do this?"
"No Sir."
Sighing again, Jean-Luc nodded.
"Very well Commander, initiate the shut down."
"Yes Captain. I will do it system by system to avoid the ship being without the computer entirely."
Jean-Luc nodded and went back to his seat, his mind roiling in dark thought.

 

 

 

 

 

Geordi was unceremoniously pushed into the cell and he slid to the floor, relating his experiences to the others. When next the armed aliens came to their cell. Will motioned his crew to stand behind him and was about to remonstrate with his captors when two guards separated him and bundled him out the door.
His journey to the examination room was swift and he gasped at the sight of the naked Beverly restrained on the table.
"What the hell are you doing?" He shouted.
He was pushed roughly and his uniform tugged and plucked. Beverly called out to him.
"They want you to undress Will and I advise you not to resist."
Will held up his hands and the aliens backed off slightly, still training their weapons on him. He undressed with all the dignity he could muster and flinched when he had to lie on the cold metal table. The restraints in place, the table was tilted and scanners were run over his entire body. When the rectal probe was inserted, he cried out in shock and outrage, the following charge stiffening his body. The ejaculate was collected and his implant painfully removed. They left him then, concentrating on their monitors.
"Will? Are you all right?"
He was still panting from his ordeal.
"Shit Beverly…what was that all about?"
"They seem to want motile sperm. They've collected one of my eggs…I think they want to create an embryo."
Will was silent a while his brain had sorted through the information.
"But your eggs…you're infertile too."
Beverly sighed and grimaced.
"That's not exactly true."
"You don't have an implant?"
"I did, but it seemed to be defective."
More silence followed.
"How do you know that?"
Beverly frowned; her eyes brimming with unshed tears.
"Because I'm pregnant Will."
"What? You're pregnant?"
"Uh huh."
Will's face screwed up in consternation.
"How? Did they do something to you?"
Beverly sighed wishing she could wipe away the annoying tears.
"No…I fell pregnant the traditional way."
More silence.
"The Captain?"
"Yes Will but for now at least let's keep this to ourselves. If we make it back to the ship I think he should be the first to know."
Will sighed and frowned.
"Agreed. So they've got one of you eggs…and they're looking for motile sperm. Do you think they are looking for another defective implant?"
Beverly frowned too, her brilliant mind coming to grips with the problem.
"Yes Will I think so. They'll probably test the two male Ensigns with you."
"They took the implant from Sally."
"Did they? Interesting. Maybe they want to hedge their bets."
Will squirmed on the bed, wishing he could rub his beard.
"What…do you think they might use her as an alternative egg source?"
Beverly grimaced, trying to shake her head.
"I don't know. With my pregnant state, they may be satisfied with just my eggs."
"Well we…"
He would've said more but the guards came forward and released him from the table. Gesturing for him to dress, he tried to catch Beverly's eye.
"Hang in there Beverly. No doubt he's doing everything he can to find us"
The hour passed slowly on the Enterprise. Trying not to hover, and failing somewhat, Jean-Luc stalked around in front of his chair, even running his finger over the ship's dedication plaque. Inspecting the digit for traces of dust, Jean-Luc turned rapidly when he was summoned.
"Captain."
He strode up to the Science Station and looked over Data's shoulder.
"Yes Mr.Data."
"The shut down is complete and we have re-initialised the computer. I can report the anomaly is no longer present."
"Excellent Commander! Now can we resume the sweep?"
"Yes Captain."
"Then make it so Mr.Data."
Jean-Luc had just regained his seat when Tactical called out,
"Sir! We have a contact."
"On screen!"
As the great ship orientated herself on the target, a concentrated burst of tachyons swept out from the deflector dish. Watching breathlessly, Jean-Luc squinted and raised his hand to his eyes as the maridum glared in the atmosphere and within the blazing light was the silhouette of a ship.
"Red alert! Shields up! Hail them Lieutenant."
Tense moments passed while they watched the ship, it turned slowly and faced them, but made no hostile move.
Jean-Luc, keeping his eyes riveted on the alien ship, walked a few steps backwards and said over his shoulder,
"Analysis Data?"
When the answer was not forthcoming, the Captain tore his eyes away from the screen and faced his Second Officer.
"Mr.Data?"
"One moment please Captain."
Engrossed in his studies, Data read the information at a breathtaking speed. He soon straightened and faced his Captain.
"They cannot fire their weapons whilst still within the atmosphere Captain. To do so would ignite the pockets of metrion gasses present, destroying both our ships."
Jean-Luc scowled.
"At this altitude we're severely restricted in what actions we can take. Are we also affected?"
"Yes Captain."
"Merde! Can we get a tractor beam on them…prevent their escape?"
"I will attempt to do so Captain."
Turning back to the screen, Jean-Luc felt a surge of satisfaction as the beam reached out and locked onto the alien ship.
"Right! Hail them again…and keep hailing them until they respond!"

 

 

 

In the two hours since Will had been returned to his cell, the other male Ensigns, Tobias and Antonio were taken in turn and endured the humiliation and fear of the sample extraction. They were no more informed when they were returned, only scared and outraged. Will gathered his shaken crew and tried to keep their spirits up.
"Look you all know that Captain Picard will be doing everything in his power to find and rescue us. All we have to do is keep our wits about us and keep our hopes up. Next time they come in, I'm going to try and liberate a blaster. Tobias I want you to angle to the right…covering the door. Antonio you go left. Sally you back me up in case they get me, you may have a second chance. Geordi you stay back…I know you can see a little bit, but I don't want you injured. If we get out, we make our way to that examination room and rescue Doctor Crusher…then we go for the bridge. Ok? Everyone clear?"
With nods all round, Will clapped their shoulders decisively.
"Right. All we do now is wait."

 

 

 

 

The alien scientists were obviously puzzled. They kept going from one screen to another, comparing notes and fussing over the samples. Twice more, Beverly endured the vaginal probe, hoping that the intrusive instrument wouldn't trigger a spontaneous abortion. Although she'd not had the time to fully assimilate the situation, or indeed examine her emotions over the discovery, she nonetheless knew she wanted to keep the child. She prayed that she would get the opportunity to tell its father the good news.
Some time into the lengthy examination of all the samples, a loud chirruping came through speakers overhead. Immediately the aliens filed from the room, two guards checking her restraints before they left. Suddenly alone, Beverly sighed in relief and craned her neck to get another glimpse of her unborn child.
"Well kiddo…it's just you and me."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Captain Picard they are responding."
"On screen."
The viewscreen flickered and rolled then cleared to reveal a figure in an evac suit. The high-pitched chirruping flowed through the comm. system making Jean-Luc wince.
"Mr.Data?"
"The computer is working on a translation now Captain."
The Captain stepped closer to the screen and when the alien stopped speaking he said,
"I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Starship Enterprise. You have committed belligerent acts in Federation space. Why?"
There seemed to be a lag of some seconds before the computer began to make sense of the alien's language.
"We…are…Yarm. We…take…what…we…need…from…others."
"You are pirates?"
"Pirates? What is pirates?"
"Pirates take that which does not belong to them by force. Sometimes killing to get what they want."
"We take what we need. Sometimes kill. Sometimes others do not want to give."
Jean-Luc walked a small circle deep in thought.
"I have not heard of the Yarm. What system are you from?"
"System? What is system?"
"What part of space?"
The alien seemed to consult a monitor the raised its helmeted head.
"We come through…worm hole. This system not ours."
Jean-Luc frowned and used his hands to gesture.
"Why do you wear suits on your ship?"
"This ship we take from others in home system. Not our…breathing."
"I see. You took six members of my crew. I want them back."
"What you give?"
"What would I give? You want to trade?"
"Perhaps."
"Let me see them."
"No."
Jean-Luc's face hardened and his dark eyes glittered dangerously.
"Then you will not leave this planet. I will call for more ships and we will overpower you and take you prisoner. You cannot escape."
"Nor can you."
"No but I have the advantage of being in my own system. If you release the prisoners, I will escort you back to the worm hole on the understanding that you return to your space never to return."
There was a moment's silence before the alien spoke again.
"We will think."
The screen resorted to the view of the ship. Jean-Luc ran his hand over his head and snorted angrily.
"Not entirely unsuccessful Captain."
"Perhaps Data, but I will be happier when I can see my away team for myself."
"Yes Sir."

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beverly was in a dilemma. She was cold…and she needed to empty her bladder. For the past hour she'd been calling out, trying to gain attention, but no one came.
"Dammit! Sighing, she made a concerted effort to relax and concentrated on coaxing her bladder to empty, despite her reclining position. With the pressure uncomfortably heavy, she frowned and muttered,
"Come on Beverly…for God's sake just pee!"
The first trickle of warm liquid down her leg made her grimace but, as the flow suddenly increased, she sighed with relief and indulged in a satisfied smile.
"Ahhh."
The door hissed open and the two inquisitors entered. They stopped in confusion as they witnessed the scene before them, one eventually proffering a scanner and studying the urine gathered in a puddle on the floor.
"Sorry gents…nature called."
Coming closer, one alien pressed a switch on his helmet and spoke.
"You carry new life within you."
Momentarily startled at being addressed in Standard, Beverly nodded absently.
"Yes."
The alien moved to the machine and withdrew her implant.
"You attempt to stop new life?"
"That was the idea."
"Then why do you carry new life?"
Beverly smiled sardonically and sighed.
"Because I can only surmise that the implant was defective."
"We do not understand. Why would you attempt to stop new life?"
"I am a Human female. Humans engage in sexual activity for reasons other than procreation. To prevent new life being created, we use chemicals to prevent fertilisation, thus enabling us to indulge in sexual activity without the risk."
The aliens looked at each other and entered some data into their computer.
"Why?"
Now becoming slightly embarrassed, Beverly huffed, blowing a wisp of hair from her eyes.
"Because sexual activity is exceedingly pleasurable and is conducted sometimes between couples who are not interested in creating new life together."
More conversation passed between the aliens.
"So sexual activity is of little consequence?"
Sighing in exasperation, Beverly tried to explain.
"Not exactly. Between two people who are committed to each other, it can be a profoundly emotional experience, helping to form an unbreakable bond."
"But not specifically for procreation?"
"No."
One alien came to her and placed its gloved hand on her abdomen.
"Do you wish the new life?"
Beverly smiled tenderly and nodded.
"Yes. Now I know it exists, I do want it…very much."
The other alien approached and stood close to her head.
"What is the gestation period?"
"Nine months."
Some information was inputted and, as they worked, Beverly asked,
"You have harvested one of my eggs and you've been seeking motile sperm. Are you trying to create life?"
The alien nearest her looked up and tilted its head.
"We seek to find an answer to a devastating plague that has decimated our people. We are no longer able to reproduce. We need an influx of new genetically robust material to survive."
"Release me and I will help you."
"Why?"
"I am a physician. I have dedicated my life to help others. I will help you if I can."
"You will help us create new life?"
"No. I will not help you do that, but I will help you find another way."
The aliens conferred and Beverly was somewhat taken aback by the next question.
"You have a…mate?"
She nodded, curious as to where this was leading.
"A male Human?"
"Yes."
"We wish to meet with him."
Beverly sighed and tried to shrug.
"That may not be too easy."
"Is he on the ship that holds us?"
Her heart leaping in her chest, Beverly closed her eyes in relief and nodded.
"Yes he is."
Conferring once again, the aliens abruptly left.

 

 

 

 

"Captain they are hailing us."
"On screen."
The alien that faced Jean-Luc pressed a switch on his helmet and his voice filtered through.
"We have a proposition. We will release our captives, except one."
The Captain scowled and shook his head emphatically.
"NO! You will release them all."
An image of the naked Beverly appeared on the lower corner of the screen.
"We wish the mate of this female to come to us."
"Why?"
"We have need of him."
Jean-Luc folded his arms across his chest and snarled.
"I say again…why?"
"That is our business. We will not release any of the prisoners until he meets with us here, on our vessel."
Jean-Luc was about to reply when the screen went blank.
"They have severed communications Sir."
The Captain turned to tactical and sighed.
"Scan them again. See if you can isolate any Human bio signs."
"Aye Sir."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will was hovering over Geordi when the door suddenly opened. With smooth precision, his crew took their places as the aliens entered. The First Officer stood tall and stepped up to the leading alien, slowly raising his hand.
"Now look…"
His blow was unexpected. The heel of his palm slammed under the helmet, snapping back the alien's head. It staggered and fell backwards, jostling the alien behind it. Pressing home their slim advantage, the Ensigns darted forward and attempted the same on the other two beings. Unfortunately one of the aliens was quicker than they anticipated. He brought up his blaster and the brilliant flare of discharge made Geordi shield his eyes. The alien on the floor also fired and very quickly, the three Ensigns were senseless on the floor. Will and Geordi slowly raised their hands and backed up, wary of the glowing tips of the blasters. One of the aliens stepped up to Will and hit him twice across the face with his weapon. Falling to his knees, Will brought his hands to his face and felt the warm flow of blood coursing down his cheeks.
The voice came as a surprise.
"You will cease resisting. We will terminate you if you continue. Do you understand?"
Climbing slowly to his feet and brushing off the concerned Engineer, Will cleared his throat.
"Agreed."
"You will come with us."
The alien brandished his blaster and Will stepped forward. Over his shoulder he said quietly,
"Geordi help the others."
The Engineer's reply was lost as he left.
The big Commander was pushed through the corridors, eventually being shoved into an empty room. He was pushed into a chair and three aliens took up positions around him. He sighed, worried as to what was to happen.
Before long, one of the inquisitors entered and stood in front of him. With out preamble, it addressed the Commander.
"You are the leader of the group?"
Will nodded.
"Yes."
"You are the leader of the ship?"
"No."
"Who leads the ship?"
"Why do you want to know?"
The blaster was pressed against his temple.
"Answer!"
"Captain Jean-Luc Picard."
The alien stood back and tilted his head.
"You are aware we hold the female?"
"You mean Doctor Crusher? Yes I'm aware of that."
"She carries new life."
"Yes."
The alien stepped forward again and lifted the blaster.
"She has a mate."
"Yes."
"Do you know the mate?"
Will huffed.
"Look…"
The slap was loud in the room.
"Answer!"
"Yes."
"Who?"
"I can't tell you."
The alien straightened and issued what sounded like commands.
Two guards left and the inquisitor stood back, seemingly content to wait patiently.
It seemed like only moments until the door opened again. The guards returned, dragging Sally with them. She was shoved in front of Will and a blaster placed at her temple.
"You will answer or she will die."
Will looked into the terrified eyes of the Ensign and knew the alien was serious.
"Captain Picard."
There was a flurry of commands and Sally was whisked away. The interrogator gestured Will to stand and, with a blaster pressed against his back, was ordered to walk forwards. They traversed the ship's corridors, finally stopping at some sort of a control room. The image on the screen both heartened and dismayed him.
"That is Captain Jean-Luc Picard?"
Will looked at his Captain and swallowed, nodding slowly.
"Yes."
"You will tell him to come to our ship."
"No. I won't."
"Then one of you group will die."
Will half turned, wishing not for the first time that he could see the being's eyes.
"Look you don't understand. The moment I was taken prisoner, my influence over the Captain ceased. I am considered compromised…he will consider me expendable to maintain the safety of his ship."
The alien seemed to consider this and Will got the impression it sighed. Taking a chance, Will asked,
"Why do you want him?"
The alien looked up and tilted its head.
"He is fertile. He is the giver of life."
Will stroked his beard and shrugged.
"The Captain will never allow you to create human life."
"But we must!"
"Why?"
With a cutting gesture with his gloved hand, the alien dismissed Will's enquiry. It issued a stream of sound and three guards entered. They took up position around the Commander and, sighing in resignation, he adopted an 'at ease' posture.
The inquisitor took one final look at Will and left, issuing orders as he did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc was pacing the bridge when the quiet voice of the Lieutenant at Tactical broke into his dark thoughts.
"Captain, they're hailing us again."
Jean-Luc stilled his feet and sighed frustratedly.
"On screen Lieutenant."
The alien appeared and spoke before the Captain could utter a sound.
"You know this Human?"
An image of a battered Will took up the lower right corner of the screen.
"Yes, that is my First Officer. What have you done to him?"
"If you do not come to our ship, we will terminate him…and the woman…your mate."
Jean-Luc's entire body stiffened. His eyes glittered darkly as his jaw flexed.
"That is unnecessary. Surely we can…"
"Enough! Watch!"
On the lower left of the screen, an image of Beverly appeared. Beside both officers, aliens stepped close and pressed blasters against their heads. The alien's voice was darkly sinister.
"Well Captain?"
"Stop!"
The aliens lifted their weapons and waited.
"Yes Captain?"
"I will come."
Data's voice was sharp.
"Captain!"
Jean-Luc turned slightly and made a cutting gesture across his throat with his fingers.
"Mute Captain."
The Captain nodded then faced his concerned Second Officer.
"Mr.Data?"
"You cannot go Captain."
Jean-Luc sighed and ran his hand across his head.
"I'm afraid I must Commander. Would you have Will and Beverly perish?"
"No Captain however…"
Jean-Luc smiled grimly at his android officer.
"I understand you're reservations Data, but I must go."
Data was silent for a moment before nodding once.
"Very well Captain."
Taking a large breath, Jean-Luc tugged down on his jacket.
"Well Mr.Data, you have the Bridge. Lower the shields only long enough to allow transport. Keep a weapons lock on them at all times and do not hesitate to fire if the need arises."
"Aye Captain...and Sir?"
Jean-Luc turned to his friend, his eyebrows raised.
"Yes Data?"
"Good luck Captain."
Nodding, Jean-Luc left the Bridge.

 

 

 

 

He materialised in a darkened room, his senses heightened by the silence. Before he could move, two aliens stepped up to him and made a show of brandishing their weapons. Not giving them the satisfaction of raising his hands, the Captain allowed them to usher him from the room and through the corridors of the ship, trying vainly to remember the route they took.
In the subdued lighting, he watched carefully as they entered a new room, the brightness of which made him squint. He soon recognised the form on the bed.
"Beverly!"
He stepped forward but a gloved hand clamped down on his shoulder preventing him from moving. One of the interrogators stood before him.
"This female is your mate."
Saying nothing, Jean-Luc tried to look into Beverly's eyes as she struggled to turn her head. A blaster was shoved under her chin and the alien hissed,
"Answer!"
"Yes."
"She carries new life."
Immediately frowning, the Captain dragged his eyes away from his lover.
"What?"
"She carries new life! You gave her that life."
Shaking his head he stammered,
"What…what are you talking about?"
Beverly sighed and cleared her throat.
"I'm pregnant Jean-Luc."
His face paled and his mouth sagged open.
"You're what?"
"Pregnant…you know, with child…expecting…"
"Beverly! How?"
She sighed again and frowned.
"The implant must have been defective."
Pulling his face into his command visage, Jean-Luc turned his attention to his captors.
"What does this have to do with you?"
The alien prodded Jean-Luc with a blaster, forcing him towards the empty bed.
"We require a…sample from you."
"Sample? What sort of sample?"
"Biological."
"Yes but…"
Beverly called out softly,
"They want a sperm sample Jean-Luc. They have one of my eggs and they want to create an embryo. Somehow a plague had left them infertile and they want new genetic material."
The Captain was appalled.
"I will not allow it! To do such a thing is unconscionable."
The alien seemed to understand the Captain's dismay.
"Captain Picard we wish no harm. We must do this or we will cease to exist as a species. Would you see us die out?"
"But how do you know the genetic material is compatible? We don't even breathe the same gasses."
The alien turned to one of the machines and drew the monitor closer.
"There are enough genetic markers for us to believe we can modify the material to suit our purposes."
Jean-Luc stared at the screen in incomprehension before suddenly realising he was looking at his unborn child. Swallowing convulsively, he rubbed his face with his hands.
"I can't…I can't let you do this."
Raising the blaster, the alien muttered,
"You have little choice Captain."
Lifting his hands Jean-Luc stalled for time.
"Wait. What about my away team…the other captives?"
The alien tilted its head and seemed to consider his words. Abruptly, it issued some sounds and three guards left.
"They will be sent back to your ship. Tell me Captain…why do you not prevent new life?"
"What?"
Beverly chuckled.
"It wants to know why you don't have an implant."
"Oh. I have an artificial organ. The chemicals in the implant would interfere with its function."
The alien stepped back in alarm.
"An artificial organ? What organ?"
"My heart."
Sounds emanated from the being and two guards entered. They took Jean-Luc by the arms and pushed him down onto the bed. He was scanned, the being paying particular attention to his chest. Suddenly it wrenched its hands away and howled. In moments the second inquisitor arrived and some minutes were spent in communication. Obviously something was very wrong. The beings sidled to the room's perimeter and poured over their scanner. They then approached the machines and entered the data, chattering between themselves, ignoring the Humans. For half an hour they kept at the machine, entering information at an extraordinary rate. Finally, they lowered their heads and stepped back.
"You may go. We will release you."
The guards allowed Jean-Luc to sit up as Beverly was freed from her restraints. She went quickly to her clothes and started to dress. Curious, Jean-Luc asked,
"What is it?"
One of the aliens turned to him and seemed to sigh.
"You lack the temple of the soul. We cannot create life from such an…incomplete being. To do so would be an affront to our fundamental beliefs."
"Because my heart is artificial?"
"Yes Captain. To us you are…unclean…not a true living being."
The Captain sighed as Beverly slipped her hand through his.
"It doesn't have to end you know."
The alien looked up and tilted its head.
"What do you mean?"
"I said I would help you and I will. We belong to a Federation of planets. One of its founding principles is to help those in need."
Jean-Luc took up the idea.
"If you were to cease your aggressive ways and accompany us to a medical facility, I'm sure that our scientists would assist you in your endeavours to save your species."
There was silence for a while before one alien said,
"But why? Why would you do this for us? What would you want in return?"
Jean-Luc smiled and shook his head.
"As I said, you would have to stop attacking other ships. As for what we would want…we seek knowledge…we seek to learn about other species. And we seek to live in peaceful coexistence."
The aliens conferred for some time, their chattering singing through the air. Finally one looked at Jean-Luc.
"You will not harm us…or incarcerate us?"
"No, not if you give your word."
The aliens looked at each other and seemed to come to a decision. One walked to Jean-Luc and placed its gloved hand on his chest.
"Although you lack a spiritual centre, we believe you to be an honourable Human. We agree."
Nodding Jean-Luc cleared his throat.
"Very well. We will return to our ship. When you are ready, contact us and we will proceed to the appropriate facility together."
Bowing, the alien gestured to some guards who ushered the officers out of the room and through the bowels of the ship. The entered a sparse room and one of the guards nodded. Jean-Luc tapped his communicator.
"Picard to Enterprise."
"Enterprise here Captain."
"Is the away team aboard?"
"Yes Sir."
"Very good. Two to transport directly to the Bridge."
"Aye Captain. Energising."
Beverly and Jean-Luc rematerialised on the Bridge of the Enterprise. Taking a moment to glance around in satisfaction, Jean-Luc sighed with pleasure.
"Mr.Data lay in a course for the nearest medical starbase and await a hail from the alien vessel."
"Aye Captain."
Beverly came close and squeezed his arm.
"I'd better get to Sickbay."
He nodded and caught her arm before she could leave. Leaning in slightly he said softly,
"Dinner, my quarters…1900."
She nodded, her eyes sparkling and left the Bridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will strode onto the Bridge, absently scratching the newly healed skin on his forearm. Jean-Luc turned to him and smiled softly.
"Welcome back Number One."
"Thank you Captain, it's good to be back."
Jean-Luc sighed and allowed his eyes to regard his friend searchingly.
"I see our medics have done their usual superlative job."
"Yes Sir. I feel almost normal."
"And Geordi and the Ensigns?"
"All fine Captain, although I think the Ensigns will have an interesting time filling in their logs."
Jean-Luc chuckled.
"No doubt they'll be a little less keen for away duty."
Will laughed, stroking his beard.
"I think you're right there Sir."
The two men sat in companionable silence as the great ship lead her partner through the vast expanse of space. ETA at the Starbase was two days so the crew settled down to their duties with a minimum of fuss. Towards the end of his shift, Jean-Luc leaned to his Exec and muttered,
"I'm a little tired Number One, I think I'll knock off a tad early. You have the bridge."
Grinning, the big man nodded.
"Aye Captain."

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc entered his quarters and went straight to the replicator. Using his vast knowledge of Beverly's tastes, he programmed a sumptuous meal, then went and secured a bottle of his family's finest vintage, and then went to his bedroom, stripping off his clothes as he went. Twenty minutes later, showered, shaved and expectant, he took some time to carefully consider his wardrobe, eventually selecting a sapphire green silk shirt and midnight blue trousers, cut slightly more snugly than was his usual style. Once dressed, he went to the table and selected fine china and linens from the replicator, finishing the entire effect with a beautiful floral centrepiece.
Once finished he took his favourite chair and devoted his thoughts to the astounding news he'd heard.
"Beverly's pregnant! We're going to have a child!"
Deep in thought forty-five minutes later, the door chimed twice before he responded.
"Come."
The doors sighed open and his breath caught in his throat. Beverly stood, resplendent in a deep purple gown that shimmered as she breathed. It was cut low front and back and reached to her feet, which were bare. Split up both sides, it allowed tantalising glimpses of her long dancer's legs.
"Can I come in?"
"What? Oh yes, of course! My God Beverly you look…utterly delicious."
She sidled up to him and closed her eyes as she detected his subtle aftershave. She rested her hands on his chest and sighed.
"So do you my love…I love those trousers on you…"
He closed his eyes and smiled, leaning in slowly and brushing his lips against hers. Her arms snaked around his head and they indulged in a deepening kiss, their passion growing quickly.
He broke the kiss and gestured to the table.
"Hungry?"
With a mischievous look and a sly grin, Beverly sauntered to the table.
"Yes, but I'd like something to eat too."
The Captain chuckled and shook his head, Beverly's libidinous humour catching him yet again.
Once seated he brought the dishes to the table and they ate in amiable silence. When the last of dessert was taken, he stood and offered his hand.
"Dance with me."
She nodded, smiling dreamily and settling into his embrace, conforming her body to his.
"Computer play Picard selection three five."
Gentle music swelled softly in the room and the couple swayed sensuously with the refrain. The tension built slowly as they danced, Beverly smiling smugly when she felt his growing need. She stopped and took his hand, leading him into the bedroom. They halted beside the bed and Jean-Luc took her in his arms, kissing her passionately. She returned the kiss, her hands undoing the shirt her wore. When her fingers played in his curling hair he sighed and when she tweaked his nipples he moaned. His own hands left her back and drifted to her shoulders, undoing the clasps that held her dress. The material slipped over her skin, the exposed flesh glowing milky in the subdued light. The gown pooled at her feet and she lightly stepped out of it. With no bra, the only remaining obstacle was her panties. He slipped his fingers under the elastic and slid them down her legs, kneeling in front of her. She watched him as he gently nudged her legs apart and gasped when he nuzzled her folds, seeking her clitoris with his hot sinuous tongue. Her hands went to his head, pressing him to her as he pleasured her, her legs trembling, her voice pleading for more.
Lost in a sea of heady sensual sensation, Jean-Luc applied himself to his task; his hands reaching up to knead and gently pinch her nipples. Her body soon began to quake and he tasted the flow of her lubricant. Knowing she was close, he lowered one hand and slid two fingers inside her, slothfully stroking in and out. She responded with alacrity, arching her back and pressing up onto the balls of her feet. She cried out and almost smothered him as her orgasm ripped through her. He stood quickly and supported her, then gently laid her on the bed, placing her head on the pillows. While she regained her breath, he doffed his clothes and, once naked, lay beside her and took her in his arms.
"My God jean-Luc...what did you do to me?"
He chuckled softly and hugged her to him.
"I kissed you my love."
"She sighed blissfully and snuggled into his embrace.
"I love the way you kiss!"
It was his turn to sigh. He turned further onto his side and Beverly felt his erection pressing against her hip. She arched into him making him growl. Trailing her fingers down his face, she kissed him languidly, her tongue insinuating into his mouth with the same cadence as her thrusting hips. He growled again, this time louder and rolled her onto her back. She parted her legs and he settled between them his hard penis pressing against her sex. The kiss became urgent, of them savagely taking and giving, seeking to express the depth of their love. She pushed up and his hand crept down, guiding himself into her. She arched up as he sank inside, her moan lost in his mouth. Her hands clutching at his shoulders, he started to thrust, his fingers tangled in her hair. She met each thrust with one of her own, grinding themselves together, prolonging the sensations. He stroked deeply into her and she broke the kiss, panting…beseeching…
"Oh God yes…please…please more...I…oh God…"
He felt the onrush of her climax. She flexed under him and cried out, her internal muscles rhythmically clenching him. He closed his eyes and released his control, thrusting vigorously. She came again and he spasmed, his entire body caught in a rictus of ecstasy as his orgasm surged over him. They clutched each other, panting and moaning, hearts beating frantically.

 

 

 

 

Some time later, Jean-Luc gently rolled onto his side, taking his lover with him. Still joined he kissed her tenderly and sighed.
"So my love…you're pregnant."
She nodded and closed her eyes.
"Uh huh."
"What do you want to do?"
Her eyes snapped open and she stared at him intently.
"What do you want to do?"
He frowned.
"It's not up to me. I don't have to carry it, or give birth to it."
Beverly gently ran her finger down his face, tracing the lines.
"Jean-Luc having a baby takes two. Do you want to be a father?"
He sighed and swallowed gathering his thoughts.
"I must admit I was shocked when I heard the news, but I have been giving it serious thought.
"Well I should think so!"
He smiled and shook his head.
"I think you know what I mean."
"And what did you decide."
He stared into her eyes and said softly,
"I think I like the idea."
Releasing a breath she hadn't realised she was holding, tears welled in her eyes.
"Really?"
"Uh huh. I know I'm a stubborn old Starship Captain, but I do love you and I can't think of a better way of sharing that love than creating a child together. Though I must say it was not something I ever thought would happen to me. So tell me…what do you think?"
"I was shocked too. There was a reason I used the implant…I thought my views were very settled about not having any more children…but when I found out…I was overjoyed! All I wanted to do was tell you and I couldn't. It was so frustrating!"
Jean-Luc smiled and pulled her closer.
"When will we know the gender?"
"Another three weeks. Have you any preferences?"
He shook his head, his grin widening.
"No, as long as it's healthy."
"What about names?"
He slowly turned onto his back. He slipped out of her and he frowned, his displeasure soon removed when she lay on top of him.
"I don't know. It's something we can do while we wait."
"Eight and a half months."
"Just about."
"Hmm."
"What?"
He grinned and closed his eyes.
"I'll have to draw up a roster of baby sitters."
Beverly chuckled and laid her head on his shoulder.
"I'm sure we'll have oodles of volunteers."
They lay in silence for a while before Beverly lifted her head and kissed him gently.
"You're going to be a terrific father you know."
Jean-Luc sighed and tucked in his chin to kiss the top of her head.
"I can only hope so, after all, I am the Captain of this ship…it can't be all that hard…can it?"
Smiling to herself, Beverly snuggled into his embrace.
"We'll see."
As she drifted off to sleep, Jean-Luc stretched his head back until he could see his stars. With his hand drawing gentle patterns over her back, he contemplated his future.
"A child. Maybe more than one. Can I do this? Can we do this together? What will it mean to us? What will it do to our relationship?"
He sighed and nestled more firmly into the bed. Allowing his thoughts to wander, he tried to picture his unborn child. Frowning he knew only one truth. Any child of him and Beverly would be loved…definitely loved…and cherished. He knew that with certainty.