Title: Synthesis
Author: Oparu
Language: English, Rating: Rated: M
Genre: Romance/Friendship
Published: 03-17-09, Updated: 07-11-09
Chapters: 10, Words: 84,186
Chapter 1: Chapter 1

If he sat down to list the best sounds in the universe, Coltraine would end up in a dead heat with Deanna's laughter, Will Riker mused as he scratched the back of his head and grinned. His warm brown hair fell lazily over his forehead as he tilted his head back and watched Deanna keep laughing. Her eyes sparkled in the blue light from the windows of Ten Forward.

With the Enterprise ensconced in spacedock, the blue lights from the interior of the Starbase Eighty-four outside the windows of Ten Forward stained everything blue. Duties were light and mostly concerned with the ongoing refit of ship's systems. That afternoon, Will had personally overseen the replacement of the main phaser array. His task had been pleasantly dull. He'd been grateful for the simplicity of paperwork after the mess the last mission had been. It was a relief to be clean, wearing his own uniform, not being shot at or watching Deanna bleed to death. Listening to her laugh now, while Geordi explained Data's latest run in with an irascible Doctor Crusher, was heavenly in comparison.

"And then," Geordi continued as he leaned closer to Deanna over his ale. "Data looks at her and asks if the baby bothers her while she's intimate with the captain but he doesn't just ask it that way. He asks if the knowledge of the presence of the baby bothers her and he's barely halfway through the question before she explodes at him."

"The Crusher explosion is becoming a common natural phenomenon on the Enterprise," Will mused, feeling Deanna's eyes on him. Looking back at her, he saw nothing but good humor in her eyes. Relaxing back in his chair, he lifted his glass and watched Geordi continue his story.

The chief engineer had a unique perspective on most of Data's antics. He and Data were the closest and Geordi's excellent sense of humor made him easy going and prone to laughter. Geordi was always good company and Will was glad he'd joined them. A small part of his heart was disappointed he didn't have Deanna to himself and since her mother had left them, that part had been gaining in intensity.

"You have no idea," Geordi replied with a shake of his head. Looking around as if he needed to make sure Doctor Crusher wasn't lurking somewhere in a dark corner of the room, he dropped his tone to a whisper. Still chuckling, Deanna leaned in closer and grabbed Will's hand. Startled but deeply pleased with the gesture, Will let his head touch hers as they listened. "If he'd been Vulcan, he would have cringed. If he'd been human, he would have melted on the spot. She got so ticked off with all his questions,I thought the novelty for him would have worn off by now, but eventually she suggested if he was so concerned about what it was like to be pregnant, he should build himself a female body and try it out."

Deanna buried her face in his shoulder, rocking back and forth with laughter. She turned her eyes to Geordi. "And Data?"

Geordi released his ale and pointed toward holodeck two. "He's been in holodeck two for the last three hours," he continued. "I know he was in the medical files and I just keep picturing him--" He stopped and mimed pregnancy in front of his own stomach with his hands. "I thought about going to check on him, but I think I'd be intruding," he finished before he became unable to speak.

With Deanna's head on his shoulder it was almost impossible to think of anything else. Will laughed with his friends but his mind was solidly fixed on Deanna Troi and the sweet-smelling touch of her hair against his neck. Her hand was still holding his right, so he drank the last of his synthale with his left and raised his hand for another. Deanna and Geordi were both nearly in tears as they nodded and accepted another drink.

"He would," Deanna agreed with Geordi as she wiped her eyes with her hand. "Oh he would, wouldn't he?" she asked rhetorically before she lifted her head from his shoulder. "Who knew Data had such a liking for babies?"

"You should have seen the look on her face," Geordi sighed, shaking his head. "We don't need that new phaser array, we can just find a way to piss her off and melt our enemies."

"Makes you wonder how the captain does it," Deanna asked wickedly. Her dark eyes flashed and she and Geordi both shook their heads.

"Maybe he just doesn't say anything," Geordi guessed. His expression twisted and he broke out into a beaming smile. "Or he ducks a lot."

Deanna's eyes glowed with amusement. "Maybe he reads poetry."

That thought set both of them off into fits of laughter again and Will fingered his drink thoughtfully. Deanna's fingers were warm without his own and, when she held still, their hands were resting on his lap. He was starting to realize he was more than amused by the captain's situation. That seed of jealousy he'd been ignoring had taken root and it seemed the soil was fertile. Beverly's emotional swings were amusing, but there was a poignancy to it as well. She might be the new terror of sickbay, but she was having a child with the captain. No matter how much it was charging the gossip mill, they were happy.

He'd always thought he was happy and he had been for quite some time. Being contented was like a worn in pair of boots, for a while they fit perfectly, then, without warning, he'd put them on to find a hole in the toe and have his comfort evaporate as he broke in a new pair. Will had grown restless and, as much as an old pair of boots, his life needed to be changed. The last time he'd felt this uneasy in his skin, he'd been contemplating taking the Drake instead of the Enterprise.

Geordi stood, still beaming, and started to bid them goodnight. "I'm afraid this is it for me," he said. "I've got to get started early. Warp cores don't install themselves. We're getting started pretty early tomorrow."

"Good night," Deanna bid him.

"Sleep well," Will offered. "Make sure you put it in right side up."

Chuckling as he left them, Geordi headed down the few steps towards the double doors.

"Well," Will began as he felt Deanna's arm wrap around his. "I don't have to be up that early."

Meeting his gaze warmly, Deanna seemed surprised. "Neither do I," she replied lightly. "I could use some quiet. Walk with me in the arboretum?"

Finishing his drink as he stood, Will left his seat and offered his arm again. "You're not going start giggling in the middle of the night-blooming orchids?"

Deanna's smirk was almost as much fun as her laughter. "I will try not to embarrass you in front of any of the vegetation."

"If I kill an ensign, you have to keep me from being sent to the stockade," Beverly began before the door to their, formerly his, quarters even had time to hiss shut. Her right hand pressed against her lower back and her left steadied her balance by clinging to the edge of his desk. "Ensign Regar's not taking her migraine medication on the correct schedule and if she comes in complaining about it one more time--"

Setting down his book, an old, paperbound version of "The Merchant of Venice", dear to him because of the wonderful strength and intelligence of Portia, Jean-Luc started to get up from his chair. Watching her take a deep breath and straighten, he realized he couldn't yet place all of her body language. If she was in pain, her unfounded rage was keeping it from him. He worried frequently for her physical well-being. Watching her become so dizzy on the Mendel had been difficult for him and Jean-Luc still felt the protective need to keep his gaze on her when she was in the room. Perhaps it was just a period of adjustment for both of them, Beverly hadn't had the first three months of her pregnancy to adapt to the changes in her body, and he hadn't had the time to integrate his new role into his life.

"Of course," Beverly's tirade continued, "she thinks something's wrong with the medication. Alyssa tries to tell her that Leyporasine functions on a time delay and the timing of when she takes it is very important. Regar thinks she needs to talk to one of the doctors and monopolizes Selar when I need her to work on the microcellular regeneration programming of the medical equipment in lab two for the victims of the Umaarian central processing disaster."

Sighing as she released the desk and started towards the center of the room, Beverly dropped her lab coat down off of one shoulder and started yanking viciously on the other sleeve. "Selar started forty-five minutes late," she continued without taking time to even see if he was listening. "Then I had to pull her off again because Lieutenant Martin's piton failed to engage properly on holodeck four and since he was teaching lead-climbing to Ensign sh'Negari and Sergeant Berriman, all three of them suffer multiple compound fractures and compression injuries because they've fallen from the Cliffs of Heaven on Cendry Two. One of them, none of the three will admit to doing it and I'm thinking of sending Worf their way, thought turning up the gravity might make it more challenging. Doctor Hill's already into the thirteenth hour of her shift but I need her to stay because sh'Negari's right tibia is in pieces and I can't fix that and Berriman's dislocated clavicle at the same time."

Tearing the lab coat off over her right wrist, she dropped it on the back of the sofa near the window. The starlines zipped mutely by as Beverly shook her head in disgust. "We're still dealing with half of stellar cartography being exposed to Cardassian diphtheria at that damn wormhole conference on Deep Space Nine three days ago. That disease is so old we don't even have vaccines for it on board anymore, the treatment protocol calls for Eurythnomitic antibiotics that take hours to build molecularly and tie up the medical replicator. Of course it's not the fault of the Bajorans their planet was invaded and their medical science is at least a century behind what it used to be, but those patients are taking up the entire quarantine wing."

Pulling her hair back from her shoulders and starting to knot it up, she gave up and loosed it again as she paced in front of his desk. Making an angry line between the replicator and the doorway to the bedroom, her feet never stopped moving. "Did I tell you Deep Space Nine's CMO keeps calling me on subspace to check in?" she asked infuriated. "His name is Bashir, he looks like he's twenty-two, could have been one of my students while I was at Starfleet medical, and he wants to know how we're handling the situation."

Bending her back in a slow arc backwards, Beverly rolled her shoulders from side to side before her right hand landed firmly on her neck. Long fingers dug into the muscles there as she turned to him. "He's always smiling," she complained, glaring past him as if the art on the wall behind his head offended her. "He seems to have guessed over subspace that I'm pregnant and he keeps reminding me not to come into contact with any of the Eurythnomitic compounds, as if I don't know that. It's possible my pregnancy made it into the gossip between the Enterprise and Deep Space Nine. I just don't see any reason why he should care or why he doesn't just come out and remind me to be careful because I'm pregnant. As if I'd forget! So on top of everything else, this wunderkind doctor, who looks barely older than Wesley, just continues to insinuate that he knows without actually saying anything of the kind. Like he's trying to goad me into mentioning it first."

Taking great care not to smile, stare at her or move too quickly, Jean-Luc removed his empty tea cup from the table and made his way slowly to the replicator as she paced to the other side of the room.

While she hovered between the desk and the sofa, she continued to run through her day. "Then Starbase Twelve calls on subspace," she explained and glared at her lab coat as it fell from the sofa and landed in a heap at her feet. Squatting down to pick it up instead of bending her back, Beverly balanced and glared at the coat. Without missing a moment, she continues. "They want to know if we're ready with the analysis of the lasting effects the water table contamination has had on the renal systems of the colonists from Libron Eight. Doctor Park Hyun-Woo asked us to have it done by Stardate 47238.2, which is still two days away, but now out of the blue, she wants it today by seventeen hundred."

Laughing harshly, Beverly tossed her infuriating lab coat onto the sofa seat instead of the back. Following behind her, now that he'd let the replicator reclaim his cup, Jean-Luc took her lab coat and folded it neatly in his lap. Sitting on the sofa as he tried to remain out of her way, he continued mutely watching her.

"Of course, it's completely impossible!" she snapped angrily and turned back to him. Her left hand flew to her hip and her right started pulling her hair back behind her head. In the last few minutes, it seemed she'd decided to tie her hair back after all. Jean-Luc allowed himself a moment to enjoy the contrast of the red-gold against her blue uniform. "I try to explain that to her but she gets increasingly unreasonable as the conversation moves on."

Now pacing the shortest route in the room, between the desk and the window while she spoke, Beverly still hadn't made eye contact with him. "Jean-Luc, it's like hitting my head on the wall when I speak with that woman. No matter what I say, she thinks we work miracles over here and have absolutely nothing else to do. Maybe no one goes rock climbing or catches archaic viruses on Starbase Twelve. She still has three times the staff I do and five interns! She has more than enough hands to run her own analysis but she seems to believe the data will somehow be compromised because she's getting the initial readings through subspace."

Throwing up her hands, Beverly tried to stick them back in her pockets, but her lab coat was gone and she had to fidget with them in front of her stomach instead. "As if we weren't going to send our results through subspace anyway! As if every order, every bit of data we get from Starfleet Command doesn't travel through subspace. If it were so unreliable we'd be at war with the Klingons and the Romulans simultaneously and trading for spare parts on the Ferengi black market because Starfleet can't manage a supply chain." Taking a deep breath, she folded her arms over her chest and finally brought her gaze to his.

Watching her pace was easier from his position on the sofa. Covering the discarded lab coat, his hands rested in his lap. When she didn't launch into a new tirade immediately, Jean-Luc set the lab coat aside on the coffee table and folded his hands into a pyramid on his legs. Keeping his tone even, Jean-Luc looked up at her with the most neutral expression he could manage.

"How would you feel about something Italian for a late dinner?" he suggested. "I was just reading about the streets of Venice and I think it's put me in the mood."

Will could still see the walls beyond the trees, but when he closed his eyes, all he could smell was pine and flowers.

"There's something on your mind," Deanna confronted him. Holding one of the delicate orchids in her hand, she smiled over it at him. "I could have picked that with my mind closed."

"Guess I'm not that subtle," Will replied with a shrug. Bending down next to her, he sniffed the orchid in her hand and shared the softness of the petals with her. "When you woke up in sickbay, after the captain was down rearranging your insides, you told me you remembered us being there. You heard us talking."

"I heard the two of you talking as background noise during a fairly bizarre dream," Deanna reminded him. She release the orchid and stood up straight, arms crossed over her chest as if she could still feel the phaser burn. "I was taking art lessons."

Will's mind brought back simpler times and he beamed at her as he straightened. "Big goopy paint swirls?" he asked dryly.

"Something like that," she replied, smile returning as her arms relaxed. "When I saw the captain in my dream, he was more interested in the cubist form. Kept insisting that straight lines were the answer to the question of the swirls. It was a very odd dream."

Her completely befuddled expression fading into a smile made what him smile. That feeling made what he was trying to say seem lighter. "We talked about love," he started. "It took us both awhile. I have to admit I never imagined having that conversation with him, he's Captain Picard, and he opened up."

Heading for the night-blooming flowers, Deanna's dark eyes widened in surprise as she fell in step with him. "Really?" she asked. "Shame I missed it."

"Can you imagine it, Deanna?" He wondered as they rounded a corner through the larger trees towards the more delicate, night-blooming plans that grew in their shade. "One day you're alone, beamed down on shore leave, the next you're living with a someone and having a child with her."

Deanna closed her eyes and bathed in the scent of the flowers. Without looking at him, she seemed to knew exactly what he was thinking. "It's a unique situation," she reminded him. "Beverly may have acted impulsively, even irrationally, but she had years of emotional intimacy to fall back on with the captain. Some couples walk a fine line between love and friendship. They might flirt with that line. It may even become muddled but, as we're both aware, a line remains there."

Remembering how many times they'd reminded each other how important it was that they remain friends while serving together, Will couldn't help retreating to the safety of a scientific explanation. "Immovable objects remain so?" he asked.

Deanna made a soft sound in the back of her throat, her smile suggested it was the preamble to a chuckle, and she nodded. "Will," she sighed gently. "A baby is a strong outside force."

"That's not all of it, is it?" he continued. Dropping to the ledge around the Andorian summer jonquils, Will rested his arms on his knees. "I watch the two of them holding hands after briefings in the observation lounge, I listen to the gossip on this ship and I feel like I'm waiting for the other shoe."

Deanna slid down next to him and her hand found a place on his knee. "Perhaps you shouldn't over think it. Our choices take us on a journey and I'm sure you'll agree that journey has been worthwhile. We've experienced things few people can even say they understand and I feel no regret from you."

Cupping her cheek, Will felt her touch drift across his mind. Deanna's mental touch was akin to the scent of her perfume finding him from the other side of a room. The spicy, floral scent of her, though faint, overrode all the flowers of the arboretum. Taking a deep breath, he reminded himself that the smell of her was a trick. His mind was trying to explain what he felt in a method his human brain could understand. Instead of breathing deeper, he let his mind fall open, pictured it clear and relaxed into the perception of her smell.

"Can a man realize he wants something else without discounting what he has?" he wondered.

Deanna's hand went to his hair and brushed it back. "Adding goals is part of the maturing process," she replied. "I thought you might join us there someday."

His self-deprecating smile was one step above a grimace. "The caveman crawls out into the light," he replied. Releasing her cheek, he fidgeted with his hands in his lap. "It's a big world out here," he mused. "Might need a guide." The small hand that took his was friendly and for some reason he felt his heart sink like a rock into his stomach.

"Will," Deanna began.

He didn't need her abilities to sense her hesitation. Her polite refusal hung in the air between them like a cool fog blanketing the scent of the flowers. "What is it?" he asked softly.

"What I sense from you now is confused and conflicted," Deanna explained. The hesitation was still there, quiet and cool behind her eyes. "You've decided to drastically change the direction of your life and though you are committed to that, you aren't ready to take the next step. What you're contemplating, the changes you'd like to make, and are not the work of a few days."

Deanna was usually right about matters of his mind and he'd grown accustomed to accepting her ideas without argument. This time he felt disarmed, almost uncomfortable, with her evaluation.

"I'm just jealous?" he asked as his fidgeting hand moved to his beard. "The captain gets something I can't have and I immediately start looking for a way to get it?"

Leaning back as she watched him, Deanna pulled her arms back. "That's a crude explanation of a very complicated situation," she reminded him.

Bending a knee, Will pulled it up towards his chest and rested his chin on it. "I'm a caveman remember," he retorted lightly. "Crude is what we do best."

Leaving the ledge, Deanna lay down in the soft grass and stared up at the simulated stars. "Stop doing that," she said.


Sighing instead of answering, Deanna waited as if she thought he could answer for himself. "Selling yourself short," she explained finally. "I can feel what you want. You could just--"

Crossing to sit next to her on the grass, he closed his eyes and imagined sitting with her in another place. "All right," he interrupted sharply. "I want you. I want us. I liked pretending to be your husband. I liked calling you my wife."

She dug her fingers into the grass and her eyes stayed on the illusion of stars on the ceiling, far away from his face. "That was a game," she reminded him.

"Let's play another," he suggested.


He lowered himself onto the grass at her side. "I'm serious," he insisted. "Let's play another game, you and I, holodeck one, tomorrow evening. I'll send the dress to your quarters."

Her eyes widened but it was far from answering no. "Dress?"

Chuckling as he pictured her in the costume he was imagining, Will nodded. "Oh yes. I think I remember your size."
Chapter 2: reaction

Her abrupt change in mood was so intense he could almost hear the wall of anger crashing to dust behind her eyes. "Damn," Beverly swore before she sank heavily to her knees on the floor in front of him. Dropping her head to her hands, she made a disgusted sound in the back of her throat before lifting her head and apologetically making eye contact. "I was going to try not to do that." Hitting her fist against her knee, Beverly stared directly up into his face. "We just talked about this at breakfast. We'd agreed I'd at least say hello before I launched into my reasons why everything is wrong with the universe at warp speed."

Sliding off the sofa to sit nearer to her on the floor, Jean-Luc reached for her chin. "That was your rule, not mine," he reminded her.

"That doesn't mean you shouldn't hold me to it," Beverly retorted as she grabbed his hand away and held it tightly in her lap. "I made it for your own safety."

Reaching for her shoulder with his other hand, he felt warmth run through his chest. "I could go back to the desk and you could come in again," Jean-Luc teased. "I believe I was just about to read the beginning of act five."

"Italian for dinner sounds wonderful," she replied to his almost forgotten question. "You know, Lwaxana and I had lunch together today via subspace. Andorian spring salad, the one with the purple radish-like things."

Grinning as he leaned back against the foot of the sofa, Jean-Luc watched the tension in her posture start to ease. "I don't believe she was mentioned in the tirade," he said.

Shaking her head, Beverly changed position and crossed her legs beneath her instead with a sigh. "No, she wasn't," she agreed. "Talking to her was one of the bright spots of my day."

Chuckling in the back of his throat, he straightened a lock of hair that had fallen into the collar of her blue uniform. "Perhaps while we work on saying hello to each other, we can work on adding the positive parts of your day to these recaps."

Closing her eyes and smiling, Beverly tried to relax as she sighed again. "She returned from the eighty-eighth annual Federation Art exhibit on Andoria three days ago," she reported. "Apparently just in time to deal with the rainy season on Betazed. Did you know it rains almost three meters worth in a few months during their winter?"

Smiling as he replied drolly, Jean-Luc felt her take his hand from her shoulder and squeeze it. "Betazed's meteorology has never been an interest of mine."

Clinging to his hand, Beverly leaned closer. "Nor mine," she said. "However, listening to her explain how to eliminate the hideous grey slugs that are after her vegetable garden was by far the best part of my day, at least, since I left you with the breakfast dishes again."

Nodding dryly, he remembered her continuous, hasty apologies as she got dressed and hurried to sickbay. "We may need to start getting up earlier," he observed.

Groaning and getting to her feet, Beverly rescued her lab coat from the coffee table and hung it where it belonged by the door. "Can't we just eat faster?" she hoped, reaching down to offer her hand to him.

"Should you really-" he wondered as he refused her hand and stood on his own.

Rolling her eyes at herself, Beverly sighed and shook her head. "No," she answered the unfinished question. "No, I definitely shouldn't try to be gallant and help you up, move furniture, spar with Worf or lift crates in sickbay."

His surprised glance made her laugh. "I didn't touch anything," she promised, though her smile was impish instead of serious. "So far my biggest physical complaints are stress related and I'd really like to keep them that way."

Pausing on his way to the replicator, Jean-Luc caught her chin and kissed her lightly. "Welcome home," he said. "I hope you had a good day."

"It had its moments," she answered, resting her forehead against his. Her skin was cool and the smell of her hair reminded him of lying next to her in bed. "Breakfast, my visit to the Bridge, Lwaxana's grand tale of how she conquered the mighty slug invasion, dinner, a shower and bed."

Keeping his hands on her hips, Jean-Luc kissed her again. "I hope you're not setting the bar too high," he wondered dryly. "I haven't even replicated dinner yet."

"Cannelloni, caprese salad, the computer's best approximation of a Chateau Picard Merlot and rosemary herb bread," she recited his usual choices when they had Italian as she slipped from his grasp and sank onto the sofa. Yanking off her boots as she ran through her predictions, Beverly finally stopped projecting frustration around her like a firestorm. "We'll eat. You'll laugh when I tell you about the slugs. You'll tell me what the ship was really doing today, how Starfleet found new ways to create more paperwork and what quirk Data or Worf discovered about humanity. We might deviate and have tiramisu or talk about how Will and Deanna keep taking long looks at each other when they think no one sees them."

Crossing his arms over his chest, he stared her down from the replicator. "Six days together and it's already become that dull and predictable?"

Dropping unceremoniously to the floor of their quarters, her boots lay forlorn at the edge of the sofa where she abandoned them. Beverly pulled her legs up to her chest and massaged her toes in slow circles through her socks. When she didn't hear the sound of the replicator, she looked over at him innocently. "Maybe I like it that way?" she asked, only half-teasing.

At his instructions, the replicator created exactly what she had predicted. Moving the dishes from replicator to table, he set it under her affectionate gaze. Lining up the plates around blue candles in the elegant Andorian candlesticks that had arrived in the wave of things from her quarters, Jean-Luc caught her eye as he lit them. "You're entitled to your opinions," he replied. "I reserve the right to be surprised by them."

"I thought you'd like those," she said, lazily pointing at intricately carved stone candlesticks. "I half intended to give them to you when I bought them last year, but I never got around to parting with them."

Setting the wine and the glasses around their plates, Jean-Luc poured it first, letting the main dish remain on hold in the replicator. Synthehol had no real effect on pregnant women, for which he was doubly grateful. Dinner without wine was an anathema to him, and it calmed Beverly's nerves.

"It appears they have made it to me regardless," he joked as he fingered the cool black stone of the one of the candlesticks. "Ingenious of you to find a way not to give them up." Fetching the salad, Jean-Luc set it on the table before he moved to stand over her at the sofa. "Madame," he jested, reaching for her hand. "Your uninspired dinner is served."

Smirking as he helped her to her feet, Beverly wrapped her arm around his as they crossed to the table. "Jean-Luc, there's a vast difference between predictable and unconscionably dull."

"Good," he answered quickly. "Perhaps you'll do me the service of warning me if we ever get too close to the later." Shaking out his napkin and dropping it to his lap, he reached for her plate and stopped in surprise when her hand caught his.

"Thank you," she murmured. Appreciation radiated from her face and suffused the warmth of her touch.

Confused, he returned the pressure of her hand and replied, "It's the work of moments to replicate dinner, Beverly."

Laughing at the joke only she understood, she released his hand and allowed him to serve her. Taking the plate, she met his eyes. "I'm sure it is no small effort to return tranquility to your quarters have each time I invade them with my barrage of postshift complaints."

Tilting his head as if he'd never considered the idea, Jean-Luc nodded slowly and pretended it was just dawning on him. "I do remember a certain difference in the ambience of my quarters," he mocked. "However, I haven't yet put it to proper scientific study."

Laughing over her salad, Beverly reached for a second slice of bread and set it on the side of her plate. "Have I ever mentioned how much I like coming home to destroy the silence of your quarters?" she wondered impishly.

"I hardly consider them mine anymore," he replied with a slight raise of his eyebrow. Lifting the bread knife and cutting a few more pieces, Jean-Luc watched as her salad disappeared quickly from her plate. "Besides," he added. "The noise level hasn't come up for discussion yet."

Setting her fork down and reaching for her wine glass, she tapped it with her finger before she asked over the rim. "Should I be grateful?"

"Beverly," he retorted more seriously. "We may discuss it whenever you wish." Pushing his salad around on his plate, he found himself distracted by the roundness of her breasts. Her pregnancy wasn't obvious, except it seemed to other medical professionals like Doctor Bashir, but he was certain her breasts were different. They were the reason she'd had her uniform tailored again, he was fairly certain of it, although he hadn't yet found it necessary to ask. She had mentioned that her hair was starting to change and that was something she liked.

That was part of what he'd been meditating upon while he ran over the familiar Shakespearean prose, thus far, she had mentioned very little that wasn't positive. Her sense of smell was becoming more acute and Beverly had only mentioned that as an excuse to spend last night in the arboretum before dinner. Even finding the time to have her uniform refitted had been a joke.

Watching her reach across the table and steal a piece of mozzarella from his plate, he offered her another pass at his salad plate, in case there was anything else she was interested in before he cleared both of them. Her fork stabbed into one of the tomatoes and another piece of mozzarella before she nodded and let him take them away. The replicator hummed and traded the empty salad plates for two plates of stuffed cannelloni covered in a hearty red sauce. Carrying the main course back to the table, Jean-Luc decided to take advantage of the calm after the storm.

"While we on the subject of things we haven't discussed," he began as he set her dinner in front of her. Waiting for him to sit before she took a bite, Beverly blew lightly over the pasta on her fork and waited for him. Jean-Luc lifted his own cutlery but then set it down again. "How are you feeling?"

Beverly had already taken a bite and she nearly choked on it as she started to laugh. "Jean-Luc?" she wondered and looked genuinely puzzled as she stared at him over his untouched dinner. "I monopolize all of our conversations. Weren't you here when I got home and talked your ear off about how I felt?"

"I meant physically," he clarified. Resting one hand on the table, he reached for his wine glass with the other.

Across from him, Beverly's fork twirled in the white, melted cheese on the edge of her pasta. When she set the fork down, her fingers danced in the edge of her napkin. "Fine," she answered simply. "I'm fine." She pretended she needed her napkin before she returned to eating. When he looked more carefully, he saw she was simply moving pieces of pasta, cut from the whole, in the sauce on her plate.

"Jean-Luc" she nimbly changed the subject. "Did I tell you Data came down to assist us with the biobed upgrade? He's completely fascinated, keeps asking the most bizarre questions. Do I feel closer to you? Do I sense another presence around me? I think he even started to ask if it was strange to make love before I found a reason to disappear. It's like having a five year old with a dictionary in his head, who can also reprogram your biobeds, hovering around you."

"Beverly," he reprimanded her gently. Resting his hands on the glass table, Jean-Luc tried a different tactic. "Imagine I'd come home, shut myself in the bedroom with my flute and only come out when you threatened me with Vulcan srismenaroth for dinner."

"You wouldn't," she teased him, eyes brightening as she contemplated the hypothetical situation.

"I might," he answered meekly. "The point is, you'd wear away at me until I told you what was bothering me."

Beverly's smile in response was genuine and she relaxed enough to start eating again. "You make me sound like a caustic agent," she said.

Raising an eyebrow in response won a chuckle from her and Jean-Luc passed her another hunk of bread.

"I suppose that's a fair assessment," she admitted once she'd swallowed. "Are you suggesting that my outbursts are analogous to your hermit-like qualities?"

Jean-Luc set down his fork and set his words in order in his mind. They'd already begun to have this discussion in various forms over the past six days. Drumming his fingers softly on the table helped him decide of how it should conclude. "Both of us need to be able to take off the uniform," he began. Idly spreading butter across bread for her, he handed it over as he continued. "We have been, and are still, very good friends, however we're both starting to realize we're going to need more than that. We've both been careful, almost unnecessarily polite with each other--"

He dry chuckle surprised him out of his thoughts. "Jean-Luc, I'm entirely too harsh with you," she retorted.

"You are harsh in my general direction," he corrected as he refilled her wine glass before thoughtfully leaning back with his own. "You are hardly harsh with me. Besides, Beverly I believe all my time in Starfleet has prepared me to take it."

"I hope so," she murmured. She was smiling again but there was a hint of regret in her eyes.

"To be candid, this has never happened to me before," he began, watching as she toyed with the last of her dinner. "I have experienced parenthood secondhand. When I lived another man's life, at the time, it did feel like they were my children. Meribor and Batai were ghosts. An experience I shared across eons."

Beverly had to lean across the table to reach him and he set down his wine glass to meet her hand halfway. "I appreciate your strength," he finished. "I know you have never been one to complain. However, I have to admit I'm fascinated. What's happening inside of you is completely foreign to me and I want to know what it's like. At least, as much as I can within my limited, male, perspective."

Bringing her other hand to his, she squeezed it before she left her chair to clear the empty plates. "You make it sound like you're jealous Jean-Luc."

"I don't envy you what must be a host of physical complaints," he offered, retreating to the sofa with their wine glasses in hand. The replicator hummed and the remnants of dinner began to disappear back into the molecular void. Her red hair fell lazily down her shoulders and his eyes traced the elegant curve of her spine. "Are you aware you hold your stomach in your sleep?" he asked as she made her way to him on the sofa, plate of tiramisu in hand.

Beverly used the single fork to pass him the first bite. Her thumb traced his bottom lip and her eyes were fixed on his,

"At night, you curl up into me--" he stopped when she buried a giggle.

"I do get us rather tangled, don't I?"

Taking the fork from her hand, he nodded and held her gaze before her smile faded. "Your ability to make the most of available space is one of your more endearing qualities," he replied. Cutting through the chocolate dust on the top of the cake with the fork, Jean-Luc lifted a bite to her lips. "When I wake up I inevitably find you holding your stomach. That unconscious bond is something I wish I could understand. To be frank, I envy it very much."

Taking his hand way from dessert, she set the tiramisu aside on the coffee table and wrapped herself around his chest. "My head hurts," she admitted shyly as he watched her fingers fidget with his hand in his lap. "The back of my eyes hurt before I'm done with my paperwork. My breasts itched so badly this afternoon that I hid in medical storage just to scratch."

His gentle chuckle calmed the restless movement of her hands.

"That can't be important--" she trailed off.

"On the contrary," he disagreed and released her shoulders so she could retrieve the tempting dessert from the coffee table. It ended up balanced on his lap. "Thank you for sharing that with me," he finished.

Beverly took another bite before she dropped the fork on the small glass plate. "Jean-Luc--"

Keeping the fork from falling off onto his legs, he held it lightly. "You think I'm not being serious."

"I know you are," she corrected. "I'm just wondering how much time you spend watching me sleep."

"You have a rare gift for falling asleep," he reminded her. Running his hand along the line of her arm, considered the question before he answered. "I used to lie in bed and think, even recite poetry before I fell asleep. I find watching you much more pleasant."

"I love you," she said, surprising him as her head dropped to rest against his chest.

His heartbeat seemed to have become both too fast and too loud. Jean-Luc knew that was impossible. Though his artificial heart was an incredible piece of technology, it wasn't programmed to increase in volume.

Beverly's head rose from his chest and her eyes softened and became sympathetic. "Does that make you nervous?"

Covering his heart where her head had been, her hand lay calmly on his chest. Staring down at it, her long fingers reaching up towards his collar, Jean-Luc realized his heart really was giving him away.

"Your heart rate increased," she explained, suddenly shy. "I didn't mean to startle you. You admitted you loved me in public, I thought it was about time I--"

"I know," he interrupted as soon as he sensed the fear seeping into her tone. "I mean, I've known. Beverly, forgive me, even when it's just you and I, I still find myself searching for what I want to say."

"You're quite charming when you're tongue-tied," she quipped. As if she sensed dividing her attention would make things easier, she retrieved the nearly forgotten dessert and started to poke at it with her fork.

Leaning forward, he put his head in his hands for a moment and looked back up to see her watching him with her fork in her mouth. "I do love you," he began. "I'm not sure I can say for how long. I don't even think it's important anymore."

Her cool fingers ran along his chin before she turned his face to hers. Jean-Luc could taste tiramisu as she kissed him. Her lips were tentative, her tongue patient and her fingers slipped to his neck. Turning into her deepened the kiss and Jean-Luc felt her leg slide down towards the floor. Her fingers crept back towards the nape of his neck and he felt her smile before they parted.

Reaching inside the back of her collar for the tiny zipper, Jean-Luc felt her tongue press once against his bottom lip. The glint in her eyes suggested she knew exactly what her teasing was doing to him. Sliding her uniform jacket free, he felt her deft hands work on his as well. Their uniform jackets tumbled forgotten to the floor in a heap of red and blue. She'd skipped the thin grey turtleneck, and only wore the two-tone grey and black tank top.

Tracing the smooth skin of her shoulder, he trailed his hand down her upper arm while she dragged him roughly out of his grey turtleneck. Dropping that to the floor as well, she started towards the bed, stripping off the tank top as she walked.

"I had to go up a bra size," she complained mischievously. Beverly's fingers rested on the waist of her black uniform trousers as she sat on the edge of their bed. "My red dress," she continued. "The one I was planning to wear at the Admiral's banquet so you'd have something to distract you from the dreadful speeches, doesn't fit across the chest. I was complaining to Deanna but she just gave me one of those Betazoid death glares."

His quizzical look as he stood over her made her laugh impishly.

"You wanted to know what was different," she reminded him with wicked amusement. Snapping the clasp on the back of her bra open, she cupped her breasts and her eyes dared him to slip the straps from her shoulders. Sliding her bra straps down around her elbows, he crouched in front of her. Taking the bra by the center, he pulled it gently free of her hands and brought his hands to cover hers. "They're sore, unreasonably sensitive, and--"

"They itch," he interrupted as he remembered the earlier complaint. Kissing her collarbone before he coaxed her hands away from them. Beginning at her sternum, he pushed his hand out following the bottom curve of her left breast. Rising to push her back on the bed, he found the last zipper of her uniform with her.

Her hands darted away and landed on the small of his back, running up his spine before pulling him down to kiss her again. Need made that kiss sweeter and more desperate. There were rare moments in his life where he allowed himself yearning. Kissing down her neck, he made his way down the top of her breast. Beverly wrapped one of her legs around his back and pulled him closer to the bed.

Chuckling as he flicked his thumb across her nipple, Jean-Luc felt her lips tighten on his neck. Running his hand down her ribs, he lifted her breast and pressed it in against her chest. Her sigh was a high-pitched sound in her throat and he brought his hands to the trousers still covering her hips. Easing her leg free, he followed her inner thigh down low enough to earn another moan before stealing his fingers away.

Coming open at his touch, the clasp of her trousers put up little resistance. Guiding the fabric free, Jean-Luc's hands started to take on the warmth of her skin. His thumbs skimmed the newly bare skin of her inner thighs in tandem as he worked his way down. Beverly's uniform trousers dropped to the floor with her top.

Using her foot to draw him back, she tore his off with far less reverence. The tight, black briefs he wore beneath his uniform grew more constricting as her long fingers teased their way around to dig into the smooth muscles of his back. Easing him closer in towards the bed, Beverly dug her fingers deeper beneath his briefs.

He shook his head slowly as he pulled her fingers free and kissed them. "I want this first," he told her simply. Beverly's fingers stayed on his lips for a moment and a corner of her mouth smiled.

Bringing her hands up to her chest with his left hand, Jean-Luc slid his open palm down her stomach with his right. Tapping a slow rhythm on her clit through the fabric of her panties only made her laugh. It was that low, needy giggle that made him smile and slip a finger beneath the hem. She was wet and it was almost too easy to tease his way in. His thumb made rough circles through the fabric and Beverly groaned once before she pulled his head down and captured his lower lip between her teeth. As his thumb sped up, her teeth relaxed. When his index finger slipped across her clit beneath her panties, she gasped into his mouth and released her grip on the back of his neck.

Freed, Jean-Luc ran his forehead down her stomach. Pausing to suck the inside of one breast, he started guiding her panties off her hips. As Beverly brought her knees up to help him, he slid a finger inside her and curled it up gently. Flexing it within her made her hand return desperately to the back of his neck.

Dropping her panties somewhere near the foot of the bed, he twisted her legs up and planted her feet on the bed. Jean-Luc flattened her clit with the pad of his thumb, teasing before he pulled it away. Listening to her breathing quicken, he took his time. His tongue ran a meandering course down the skin from her knee to her clit. Licking across the labia instead only forced a disappointed moan before he brought his tongue to her swollen clit.

Barely skimming it with his tongue, he rolled his fingers up and pushed inward. The wetness of her warmed his knuckles and he added another finger. Her breath lost rhythm and she gasped. Her nails dragged up the back of his neck and then the palm of her hand ran smoothly across the crown his head. Turning the tip of his tongue into a point, he sent it around her clit before softening his tongue.

Licking with the flat of his tongue, Jean-Luc found a rhythm with his fingers. Curling the two of them in gently as if reaching for his tongue through her, he closed his eyes and listened to her breath grow ragged in her throat. When it became a moan that rose with his fingers, he covered his teeth with his lips and brought them in for contrast. Working her clit softly between his tongue and the hidden harshness of his teeth made her start lifting her hips into his mouth.

Holding her hips down with one hand, he drew her clit further into the heat of his mouth. His fingers tired and began to complain, and he added the third. Stopping suddenly, as if he intended to leave her half-finished, Jean-Luc chuckled when she slapped his cheek. Rubbing her clit between his upper lip and tongue, he stiffened his fingers and increased their speed.

Catching in her throat, Beverly's last moan ended in a whimper. Her eyes shut and the involuntary shudder ran through her body. Her breathing still came in pants, but it began to slow. Pulling his hand slowly free, he flexed his fingers and dropped his wet hand to his briefs.

Dragging them free and stepping out, he let the cool air shock the now intense heat of his dick. Her eyes contentedly met his and a warm, dry hand circled his dick playfully. Her fingers moved slowly down before she released him with a teasing murmur.

The sheets rustled as she sat up and wrapped her legs around him from behind. Kissing his neck, Beverly moved to sit on his lap. She kept kissing him, distracting him with her mouth and the way her breasts rubbed against his chest. Sinking her knees into the bed, she straddled him. He could feel the sweat on her face as she nuzzled his shoulder. Beverly's dry hand guided his dick into the wetness of her and her eyes closed before she started to move.

At first, she was slow, teasing him with her body the way she had with her hand. Even if she'd been still, the heat of her surrounding his dick would have driven him mad. Beverly knew that and the determined fire in her eyes suggested she wanted the privilege of wearing him down.

She liked to joke that even in bed, he was a disciplined mind. Her pride came from his undoing. Beverly was wet and controlled. Her edge was dulled and she was on a mission. Tilting her hips into him, she changed the angle just enough to make him groan into her chest.

This time it was her rhythm, her pace, that they followed. Beverly's muscles tightened around his dick as she kissed his neck and taunted him mercilessly as she let them relaxed. Her arms crossed behind his neck and she drew his chest closer. Her skin was hot and slick against his chest and Jean-Luc sank his fingers greedily into the flesh of her back.

Her moaning grew deeper, and the tightly controlled flow of her hips began to slide towards chaos. Together they fell into it, her hips moving in a series of desperate thrusts as he rose to meet her. Jean-Luc caught her chin, feeling the slickness of sweat mixing with the wetness of her still on his fingers. He wanted her eyes as he came.

Beverly gave him her lips, kissing him desperately before she allowed him to hold her head still. The darkness in her pupils swallowed him, consuming him as her vagina drew tight. Dropping his hand to her clit, he pressed it crudely as his dick released. Beverly's gasp sharped into a cry and her head dropped to his shoulder. Orgasm rippled through him with the strength of a plasma shock.

She seemed to melt and Beverly tumbled them back in a heap of sweaty limbs. One of her legs draped over his stomach and the other pressed to his side as they caught their breath. His hand went to her hair and listlessly stroked the damp curls sticking to her neck. His breath came back slowly and Jean-Luc didn't rush it. Breathless satiation filled him like an electrical field and he thought he could almost hear the hum.

Beverly sighed as she lifted her head with one arm. Smiling contentedly down at him, she traced his lips with a tender finger. Lowering her head, she kissed his forehead. "Jean-Luc," she murmured slowly. "There are almost as many ways to avoid saying that I love you as there are moments when it screams in my head. I do love you and it's not even only when I'm full of endorphins."

Raising his eyebrows sardonically, he echoed her sigh. "Are you saying you're chemically bonded to me?"

"From a physician," she quipped, reaching for the sheets they'd crumpled and pushed away. "That's a hell of a compliment."

"Noted," he replied as he moved his legs to let her fix the sheets. "I love you, too," Jean-Luc replied simply. "Though I can't present evidence that's based in scientific fact."

"From you I almost expect it to be literary," she taunted, settling into the sheets before sighing in disappointment. Beverly sat up and kissed his forehead again before she abandoned him for the bathroom.

Jean-Luc closed his eyes and let his mind drift on a quiet sea while he waited for her. The warmth of her body and the weight of her head on his chest was back in a moment.

"I love you," she echoed as he took her hand and let her settle arms around him as he lay on his back. "Remember that in the morning," she begged with a heavier sigh. "In case I behave as if I don't."

"I'm going to remember how docile you are now," Jean-Luc teased back. They lay in silence as she moved his hand to her stomach. Allowing it to rest there, she covered it with one of her own.

"If only I'd known," she muttered to his chest.

He knew he had the option of pretending he was already asleep, but his curiosity won out. "Known?"

Beverly sighed regretfully. "Had I known you were like this in bed, I would have gotten pregnant the old fashioned way."
Chapter 3: hypothetical

"Geordi, did someone kick you out of engineering?" Will wondered playfully, turning around to stare at Commander La Forge from his seat in the center of the bridge. Deanna had been watching the engineer hover around the rear station until her neck hurt, then she'd decided to watch him mentally instead. His usually open mind was a mass of insecurities.

"Not that you're not welcome on the bridge--" Will continued as Geordi circled down, adjusting his uniform as he walked.

"Okay, it's a bit of a sensitive subject," Geordi replied. His hesitation was covering a pulsing discomfort, like an electric current about to shock him, and it was as obvious to Will as it was to her.

"The counselor is here," Will teased dryly, waving towards the door to the ready room he added, "The ready room is at your disposal."

"It's-well-it's just that," Geordi's pause gave him time to examine the floor before he looked back up at Will. "I'm having a personnel problem."

Deanna felt his discomfort surge suddenly, like a spark in a dark room, and she tried to find form in what she was feeling.

"Oh?" Will asked in mock sympathy. "I didn't see anyone on report."

Will's mind was a clear, ringing sense of amusement, as easy to hear as her mother's old dinner gong. Whatever Geordi was about to say, he knew it already.

"It's not that, sir," Geordi tossed in the word almost as if he were trying to bring decorum back into the situation.

"Out with it," Deanna interrupted before Geordi could stammer out anything else. Will fixed her with a grin and turned his attention back to the engineer.

"A few of my staff are afraid to go to deck nine," he explained. Deanna could feel the familiar rush of tingling heat that accompanied a flush of embarrassment. Will was barely containing his laughter.

"A few?" Will repeated as if he were concerned.

Geordi's hands tugged his uniform jacket again. "Herriman, Doxley, Marisuta-- It's like a plague down in engineering. Doxley volunteered to do the maintenance on the warp plasma exhaust. Herriman's recalibrating the tertiary quantum sensors because he found a point oh-three variance. I was going to assign the task to one of my cadets."

Will played dumb with a parsec-wide grin on his face. "What's on deck nine?"

Geordi's discomfort increased. His mind felt like a mass of static electricity that prickled when she brushed over it. Deanna wondered how busy she had been that she'd missed some kind of development. Her calendar had been overbooked for the last week. Nearly losing the captain had put the entire crew on edge and, in true Starfleet fashion, most of them were only able to talk about it now that the crisis had passed.

Will's amusement radiated like a jar full of fireflies. Deanna saw the image in Will's head, and like some of the bizarre things that floated through her mind, it took her a moment to decode. A blue dragon, ringed with red-gold fire that it seemed to be forming a halo around its head. The image was fuzzy, misty around the edges, and if she hadn't been so close to Will, she wouldn't have been able to make out any of it.

Tilting her head towards Will, she asked her question with her eyes. Will chuckled dryly before he offered his explanation. "I caught two ensigns talking about the dragon of deck twelve."

Deanna felt her forehead tighten as she tried to figure out what he meant. "Why is it-"

"-Blue?" Will finished for her. "She," he explained with a chuckle. "She is blue."

Sighing as he gave up, Geordi just shook his head. "Doxley I almost understand, he was in charge of the biobed upgrade when we fried the EPS manifold. That overloaded the medical computers in all six of the laboratories--"

Deanna felt like she'd been locked in a cargo bay and missed everything. Her own disbelief just seemed to make Will more amused. "Beverly?"

"The dragon of deck twelve," Will explained, eyes twinkling as he folded his hands in his lap.

"It fits," Geordi muttered darkly. "If I get Data to assist, Barclay, Data and Taurik should be able to get the laboratories back online in the next couple of days. I can't use Data for the biobed upgrade because I need him to help me install the new warp core."

"Perhaps you should draft a few more Vulcans from the science sections," Will suggested playfully. "It shouldn't be too difficult to work out some kind of personnel exchange."

Shaking her head as she remembered the names he'd listed, Deanna asked, "Barclay?"

Sighing heavily, Geordi fidgeted with his hands before he shrugged. Deanna could feel the quiet surge of respect. "He said he's just used to getting yelled at," he explained. "He just does whatever he does and he's fine. Taurik's just naturally imperturbable."

"Don't suppose you've headed up there yourself?" Will prodded.

Geordi's response was immediate, "No." Realizing his error, he tried to save himself. "I've barely left engineering in the last three days."

"Of course," Will taunted mercilessly as he checked something on the left monitor of the command chair. "Should I make a report to the captain?"

Deanna moved forward in her chair and raised her hand before Will could torture Geordi any further. "I'll go to sickbay," she offered as she rolled her eyes at the two of them. "I frequently visit during the course of my duties. It's entirely ordinary."

"Right," Geordi replied as he sighed. The tension slid from his shoulders and Deanna could see as well as feel his relief. "Good luck."

Remembering her father's stories of outlaws escaping the noose, Deanna watched Geordi head for engineering. "I haven't felt anyone that nervous in a while," she said as Will kept his eyes on her. "He was actively dreading the idea that you would order him to go down there."

"Beverly's been very popular with the crew," Will reminded her. Dropping a little of his amusement, he leaned in conspiratorially. "She's been able to talk many of the crew the into being in or attending her plays. It's hard to imagine her becoming the dragon of deck twelve overnight."

Balancing her hands on her knees for a moment, Deanna got to her feet. "It's been a very stressful time for everyone. She's also trying to deal with several very significant life changes in a very short period."

Will stood and started walking her to the turbolift. "The captain seems to be handling things amenably. He's been in good spirits; painting, fencing, we're even going riding in the holodeck."

Leaving the bridge to Lieutenant Richter, Will followed her into the turbolift. "Deck Twelve," he asked the computer before he turned his attention entirely to her. The captain and I have always gotten along," he continued. "Now it seems he has taken an interest in my personal life. He asked me how our search through romantic holonovels was going and if I had considered Klingon folktales-"

Touching his shoulder as she grinned, Deanna made a mental note to consider Klingon mythology in their mutual search for the right program. Will's ancient Earth fantasy called 'Zorro' was first, but they'd already begun to search for another. "The captain has mentioned to me that he's been enjoying having a consistent dinner companion and I mentioned that you and I were spending more time together."

Will rubbed her hand that she hadn't removed from his shoulder. "I don't mind that he knows," he assured her. "I suppose I've always known he cared, but discussing the finer points of scheduling a date with you with the captain caught me off guard.

The pleasant rush of emotion that accompanied the thought of their date was like a deeply flattering glance in her direction and nearly made Deanna blush. Instead, she squeezed his hand and felt the turbolift come to a halt. "Data noticed that he smiles eighteen percent more often and then asked me if all human males would take so readily to an abrupt knowledge of their impending fatherhood."

Will smiled in response but there was a conflicting, bitter sweetness in his thoughts. Deanna could almost taste it on her tongue, like lemonade on a hot day, and she waited. Before the turbolift could open, Will looked up and called the computer to halt.

"How is he doing it?" Will asked with gentle curiosity. "It can't be easy for him."

Deanna turned to face him and decided to ask what he'd been waiting for her to. "Imagine you came back from an away mission and I told you while you'd been gone, I'd been impregnated with your child. Now, it's a strange situation, but I want to keep it. What would you do?"

"Deanna," he began. His mind raced through a torrent of different thoughts until he settled on an odd kind of longing. "That's different."

"Not entirely," she reminded him. "We see each other every day. We frequently spend our off duty hours together. We share many hobbies, we occasionally take our vacations together. You're the first person to know I'm upset and usually the last person I want to see when I am."

Will chuckled and his hand reached for her cheek. His mind had finally calmed. Will's most thoughtful periods felt like a slow snowfall in his native Alaska. Soft snow fell silently over the woods in his head and Deanna could nearly smell the pine.

"We're not ready to take the last step," he said softly and Deanna knew he didn't believe it. It was sweet that he was trying to be cautious, trying to let her take the initiative.

Deanna felt almost dishonest as she answered him. He had to know, out of all the men in the universe, he was the one she would most want as a partner. Aside from the few days where she tried to make a life with Wyatt Miller, Will was the only man she had contemplated having children with. "It's a different thing to see you first thing in the morning on the bridge than in my bedroom," she finished lightly. Trying to smile innocently, she stroked the back of the hand still on his cheek.

"I'll see you tonight," she promised as she broke their physical connection and started out of the turbolift before she lost her self-control. Once a long time ago, she'd told him it was humans who had a hard time separating physical and emotional intimacy. Now Deanna found it was her with the problem. The closer she let her mind get to Will Riker, the harder it was to keep her hands off of him.

"Do I want to ask?" Deanna asked from the doorway into Beverly's office. The redheaded doctor was kneeling on the floor, tossing data padds up onto her desk. Reaching out towards Beverly's mind, Deanna touched something that twisted her stomach. Like an uncomfortable flash of yellow-green light in the corner of her vision, she shared the roll of nausea. Rocking up from sitting on her ankles, Beverly moved to lean back against the wall and Deanna felt Beverly's discomfort like a glaring light in her eyes.

"I was trying to show Nurse Carriaga something on my computer," she explained.

Puzzling over that thought, Deanna heard Beverly sigh as she waved her into the chair in front of her desk. One of the data padds she'd thrown up to her desk slid and clanked down to the floor next to her. Grabbing it, she pitched it to the far side of her desk and caught Deanna's eyes on her.

"I did it," she complained wryly as she fetched the last padd from the corner of her office. "I was pointing out a protein sequence, and suddenly everything on my desk was on the floor."

Watching Beverly tighten her grip on the edge of her desk, Deanna felt her own sympathy force out some of the nausea she was sharing. "Data padds are very resilient," Deanna promised her lightly. "I'm sure they're unharmed."

Laughing would have been too much with the nausea threatening her stomach but Beverly managed a weak smile. "Can I help you Deanna?

Deanna crossed her legs and rested her hands on her knee. So far, she'd see none of what Geordi was so concerned about. "We've both been rather busy lately," she began. "I thought you might have time for lunch." The sentiment was friendly and Deanna was right, they'd barely spoken since Lwaxana had left the ship.

Beverly forced herself to let go of the glass edge of her desk and crossed her arms over her rebellious stomach instead. "I'd like that," she said. Her eyes softened as she looked at Deanna curiously until she understood. "Sorry, I'll try to stop thinking about being nauseated."

"I thought you weren't-" Deanna began to ask gently and Beverly quickly waved her quiet.

"I wasn't before," Beverly replied curtly. Pushing herself up from her desk, she shrugged off her lab coat. Shaking her head, Beverly watched on of the data padds slide off and bounce from her chair before it hit the floor. "Damn," she muttered towards the padd before she looked back at Deanna. "I'm sorry. Unfortunately, it's not poker. I can't throw one symptom away and draw another. Sometimes whole sets of them build upon each other."

Feeling herself grin, Deanna watched as Beverly glared at the data padd. "You're counting clumsiness as a symptom?" she asked.

"I've gone years without knocking an entire day's work to the floor," Beverly answered as she nodded to Alyssa. "I'll be back in an hour."

Deanna could see Barclay and the Vulcan engineer working on the biobed upgrade. While they were being improved, only one biobed was functioning at a time. Even minor surgical procedures would have to be conducted in the surgical bay and that had to be causing the undercurrent of annoyance she felt in Beverly's head. "How are the upgrades?"

Beverly's frustration rippled beneath the surface, like a one of the aquatic snakes that Deanna had found so frightening as a child, and she felt something overpower the nausea. The continued inconvenience was adding to Beverly's endless list of annoyances. She was tired and trying to focus on something, anything, else.

Deanna was familiar with that human tactic. It was like watching someone pile up sand and hope it stayed in the same place. She brushed at it, careful not to disturb Beverly's thoughts but curious. Finding the captain in the center of her friend's mind, Deanna started to grin. Using Will's mind to center herself was a trick she resorted to when she felt particularly lost and it was sweet that Beverly employed something similar.

"Something on your mind?" Beverly asked as they caught the turbolift.

Deanna shook her head, amused by the irony. "Someone," she answered gently. She could feel the comforting warmth of Beverly's friendly concern. "Will."

The turbolift halted on deck two and Deanna led the way towards the officers' mess. This late in the afternoon it was most likely deserted, and Deanna felt Beverly was grateful for that. The underlying current in Beverly's mind could be the effort she was putting into not snapping at Deanna, and she didn't want to try her luck with anyone else. "I heard the two of you were planning an epic series of holodates," she ventured.

"Who told you?" Deanna asked playfully as they headed for the far table near the window. The officers' mess was completely deserted and the blue glow from the hold of Starbase Eighty-four was oddly peaceful.

Tapping lazily through the selections in the replicator, Beverly quickly gave up and allowed Deanna to choose first. "Jean-Luc said Will was looking for ideas," she said. "He told me he suggested 'Antony and Cleopatra' and something Vulcan. I'd go with the Vulcan one. He seemed more intrigued by it."

The Hylian curry Deanna ordered appeared in the replicator, followed by several smaller dishes of the vegetables and fruits that accompanied it. Deanna carried them to the table and took a bite as she waited. Stirring the small bowls into the larger one, Deanna let the spicy scent float up from her curry and sighed contentedly. "Isn't it amazing how being on the bridge for six hours makes your lunch taste better?"

Keeping her tea in front of her nose, Beverly exerted as much control as she could over her stomach. Letting her soup cool, she watched Deanna eat.

"Vulcan has produced several rather touching love stories," she reminded Deanna as she lifted her spoon to lazily stir her soup. "The Pon Farr makes them rather passionate for a species that prides themselves on emotional suppression."

"Worf gave Will an opera to listen to," Deanna said grinning wickedly as she took another bite and tasted the sweet apples in the curry. "I don't think he's made it through the overture yet."

"What you're doing is very romantic," Beverly said as she stirred her soup. The pretext of her soup simply being too hot would have fooled a non-empath. Deanna could still feel the nausea hovering around Beverly like a cloud of yellow-green sparks. The Vulcan soup had almost no smell, and the grey-green hue was comforting. It was something that was the captain's style. Deanna wondered how many other things were passing between the two of them. The assimilation of behavior in married couples was always fascinating.

"You've been missing mok'bara classes," Deanna accused her across the table.

Toying with her soup, Beverly lifted the spoon and tasted it. Deanna was relieved when she smiled and took another bite. "It's difficult to get out of bed in the morning," she said.

Chuckling as she dropped more apples into her curry, Deanna watched Beverly's spoon slip below the surface of her soup. "I didn't know you were participating in other kinds of exercise," she quipped playfully.

When she looked back up, Beverly found herself trapped in Deanna's prying gaze. "Deanna," she sighed.

"I shouldn't ask," Deanna agreed. Setting down her knife, she shook her head and leaned closer, even though the room was empty. "As the counselor it's none of my business. As your friend--" she shook her fork threateningly in Beverly's direction.

"It's my fault," Beverly explained sheepishly. "I keep sleeping through my alarm and Jean-Luc doesn't have the heart to wake me until the last minute. He's really too considerate for his own good."

"Right," Deanna said without really agreeing. She rolled her eyes and pointed her fork accusingly. "You sleep."

"We eat together too," Beverly replied innocently over the surface of her tea. "I complain about work. He reads. Sometimes he reads to me."

Deanna's knee nudged her under the table. Beverly had always seen a side to the captain he'd kept from others. It was amusing to see how he'd brought out the other sides of her as well. "And?" she prodded.

"And what?" Beverly repeated. "He likes choosing what to replicate for dinner. He plays the flute only when he thinks I'm not really listening. I have to pretend to be entirely engrossed in what I'm reading, then he'll play."

Deanna's deep sigh of disappointment was purposely reminiscent of her mother and she felt Beverly's walls begin to fall. "That's not what I'm asking," she prodded.

"Of course," Beverly looked over her shoulder once, half-teasing as she made sure they were still alone. "It's been twenty years since I lived with anyone," she said seriously. Fidgeting with the handle of her spoon, her thoughts softened and started to pink, like the blush of a sunset spreading across a lake. "Jean-Luc's the best roommate one could ask for. He's neat, he's forever picking up after me. Quiet, considerate--"

Balling her napkin up in her lap discreetly, Deanna tossed it across the table, neatly smacking Beverly in the shoulder.

"All right! I love him," Beverly revealed as she failed to catch the napkin and it hit the floor. Leaning down to grab it, she bumped her tea and the nearly full cup spilled across the table. The ceramic clanked against the glass and she could hear the liquid start to run over the edge towards the floor. Jumping back, Beverly nearly knocked over her chair.

Quickly catching the cup, Deanna righted the cup and fetched another few napkins from the side table. "I almost didn't believe you'd become this clumsy," she teased as she wiped the table dry and kept Beverly from disturbing anything else. "Sit," she ordered firmly. "Don't touch anything." Cleaning up the mess, she shook her head. "I'm supposed to believe you're famous for dancing at Starfleet Medical?"

"Believe it or not, I get worse," Beverly admitted ominously. "When I was pregnant with Wesley I broke my own pieces of Ktarian art, knocked over my plants and once gave myself a concussion with the edge of a table."

Deanna dropped the wet napkins into the laundry slot, replicated another cup of tea and set it in front of Beverly with exaggerated care. Then she returned to her lunch. "Should I warn the captain?" she asked.

"He was there for the concussion," Beverly replied impishly. Deanna's surprise made her chuckle. "Later," she murmured. "It's an old story and it's not going anywhere. Tell me about Will and the holodeck."

Now finished with her lunch, Deanna returned her plates to the replicator and ordered a piece of chocolate mouse cake. Asking the replicator for a cup of coffee as well, she felt Beverly's mind settle into the soft calm of anticipation. "Will wants to change the nature of our relationship," she said.

"So you're planning these holo-dates," Beverly continued for her, waving her hand to sped Deanna along. "To see if you're ready for the real thing again?"

Digging her fork into her cake, Deanna toyed with the chocolate instead of eating it. "It's not just that," she began. "Watching you and the captain has altered his perspective. He hasn't considered that he could fit a family around his duties."

"Jean-Luc didn't really have the option of saying no," Beverly reminded her. Her chagrin had already begun to soften. The gravity of what she'd done, the lengths she could go to for the captain, still weighed her down but that burden was starting to ease. Guilt was one symptom she was starting to lose as time passed.

"He did," Deanna said. One thing she could accomplish better as Beverly's friend than her counselor, was reminding her that the captain had asked her to move in with him. His personal debate had been brief but thorough. She'd shared a cup of tea with him and assuaged his concern that engaging in a relationship would hurt his command. "He could have decided to keep your relationship as it was and politely be involved with the child from a distance."

Beverly's puzzled expression was amusing. Confusion was better than self-recrimination, and Deanna reached across the table to pat her wrist. "He didn't consider that for more time than it took his tea to appear in the replicator," she promised. "The captain's happy. Almost blissfully so, and I think that's part of what's driving Will. He sees the captain and realizes some things aren't impossible."

Finishing her lunch and setting down her spoon, Beverly turned over her hand to hold Deanna's. Her fingers fidgeted with hers but she smiled at the contact. "What do you see?"

"I see Will being caught between two worlds," Deanna sighed. Not even the sweet, seductive taste of her cake could ease her heart. "It's only a matter of time before he gets offered another command. It's one thing to--"

"-Shack up with your CMO when you're already the captain," Beverly finished with a shake of her head. "Being with you, having a child, if Will wants these things he'll just have to find a way to balance them with his desire for his own starship. It's not easy, but it can be done."

Shuddering as she imagined the nights of sleep deprivation, Deanna nodded. She'd heard her mother's stories, and Lwaxana had only spent a little time in space with her father. Beverly probably knew better than anyone how difficult it was to find any time for oneself on a starship. Taking the precious time between shifts and fitting a child into it seemed nearly impossible. "

"Diapers, pre-dawn briefings, midnight feedings, alien conflicts, teething and demanding Admirals," Beverly listed. "I only had finals and my internship to deal with while I was pregnant with Wesley." Her blue eyes stared past Deanna out into the void of Starbase Eighty-four's hold. When she met Deanna's eyes, her expression suddenly changed from contemplative to sympathetic.

"It's not what you want," she realized. The pride in Beverly's voice for figuring it out quickly faded into sympathy. "You're afraid."

Deanna hadn't been able to voice it. She'd known the thought was there. It wasn't Will she was rejecting. Just being around him again, even on the holodeck, was intoxicating. Dreaming of him, letting him walk her to her quarters, all of those parts of Will felt right in her life. Even marriage was understandable and she could see why it had become important to him. The uncertainty of life, especially hers, had recently been made apparent to him.

Will's natural response was to bring her closer and seize the moment between them. Deanna understood that. She'd woken up with his smiling face over hers in sickbay and known all was right with her universe. There was a chasm between holding hands and having a child.

Beverly broke it up for her. "Do you want to be with Will?"

Deanna felt her eyes sting and her vision started to blur. Blinking several times cleared her eyes, but it didn't take away the deeper sting in her chest. "The last time we tried to be together he broke my heart," she answered. "He wanted to be a starship captain."

"It's not an easy thing to share the man you love with a thousand other people," Beverly joked as she stood up. There was quiet acceptance in her voice beneath the amusement. "It's up to you to decide. I was happy with Jack, I lost him and part of myself. I might lose Jean-Luc."

"Better to have loved and lost?" she mused. Deanna tucked the last of the plates into the replicator and crossed her arms over her chest thoughtfully. "You're happy with the captain," she said feeling the warmth radiating from Beverly's thoughts.

Beverly's fingers danced patterns on her sleeve. Her lips pursed before she spoke and her sincerity flashed through Deanna. "Yes," she said and her smile deepened. "Even when I'm yelling at him because the new head of Starfleet Medical is a hopeless quack-"

"-She is, isn't she?" Deanna agreed with a sigh.

"Don't let me talk about her," she groaned and shook herself out of her anger. "I feel-" Beverly paused and bit her lip. Stopping them in front of the doorway, she finished her thought before they left the mess. "-I feel settled. Restive instead of restless."

"Because of the captain," Deanna finished the thought. Opening the door into the corridor, she sighed and felt the confusion in her heart sink lower into her stomach. "Will and I, we could be happy," she admitted. "I could be incredibly happy with him."

"That's the frightening thought, isn't it?"
Chapter 4: post-parasitic

Her right knee was pulled up so she had to lean over it to reach her computer. Beverly's red hair fell over her left shoulder and the interphasic scanner still lay on her desk, suggesting she'd been there for some time. Standing in the doorway, he clasped his hands behind his back and watched her work. When she was tired, she'd knit her eyebrows together and start fidgeting with her hair. Before that state came the lip biting, and if she was really concentrating, she'd bite her fingers as well.

Little finger still pressed against her lip, Beverly entered something else into her log and tilted her head to the left in thought. Her head rested on her knee for a moment before she sighed and the fine muscles in her forehead creased the smooth skin. When her left hand migrated over to pinch her the bridge of her nose, Jean-Luc realized he might need to adapt his personal system of measurement to fit her changing physical condition.

Clearing his throat to announce his presence, he rested his hands on the back of the chair as she turned to him and smiled.

"Captain," she murmured in a less than professional, almost playful, tone. Brightening as she smiled, Beverly's blue eyes welcomed his presence and she pulled her hands away from her computer. "Are you glad to be back in the real world after your foray into Data's subconscious?"

"The idea that one's dreams can be made as real as a holodeck is frankly unnerving," he answered. Pushing off from the chair, he hovered by her desk, not quite ready to sit. Some days on the Enterprise had the nasty habit of becoming marathons without notice. Dealing with the fallout of Data attacking a friend and a fellow crew member had taken them all aback.

"I am relieved I don't have the capacity to share my subconscious in that manner," he continued. "Of course, that's part of what makes it so fascinating. Data doesn't even feel like his privacy has been invaded. He freely opened his innermost thoughts and let Geordi and I walk through them."

Hugging her leg to her chest, Beverly rested her chin on her knee and watched at him with a soft smile. "Data's always had that childlike honesty. It's an admirable, though occasionally disturbing trait."

"I suppose it just makes us all wonder what we're keeping hidden," he said. Tugging on his uniform, he reminded himself that he'd had a legitimate reason for being in sickbay. Switching between lover and commanding officer was never going to be easy and he was jealous it seemed so easy for her. Shifting his posture, he stiffened in a conscious attempt to formalize the upcoming conversation

"Doctor," he began. "The parasites have been eradicated, Counselor Troi has been released from sickbay, Data has recovered and I don't require your full report until tomorrow."

Softening up as she raised her eyebrows at him in surprise, Jean-Luc paused and finished informally, "Beverly, come to bed."

Erasing the lines on her forehead, her face broke into a genuine smile. Contemplating him, Beverly remained silent before she reached for him across the cool metal of her desk. His hand met her halfway and he felt a contented shiver run through her. In the darkness of the late hour, he could risk the contact without worrying about the perceptions of the crew. She understood. Beverly knew him and he was starting to wonder if she'd known what she was doing the whole time. If she'd realized he would need an additional nudge to be with her; that it would take a special force to overcome the inertia that held them apart for so long.

"Will took Deanna back to his quarters," she teased instead of answering his request. "Something about keeping her safe from confused androids and invisible space leeches."

Running his thumb along the back of her hand, he surprised himself as he swallowed a yawn. For the moment, everyone was safe, he'd avoided the Admiral's banquet again and Jean-Luc found his mind resting on the very pleasant idea of falling asleep with her tangled up around him.

Beverly sighed and took her hand back to finish what she'd been working on. Whatever it was, it distracted her enough that she lost her train of thought and the gossip about Will and Deanna would have to wait. Beverly had the charming, if slightly unnerving, ability to process all the nuances of her day by discussing them with him.

Settling into his chair, Jean-Luc watched her work. Asking her what she was working on didn't seem important, he knew she'd tell him. Her right hand finished entering something with her stylus and she stretched her leg down to the floor and sighed heavily. Beverly rolled her head down and brought it up to rest in her hands. Dragging herself to her feet, she crossed her office to the larger vid panel on the wall.

"Deanna doesn't know how to be with him without losing herself," she continued her thoughts from before as if she'd never left them. "They've made choices that have kept them apart. As you and I both know, that distance gets comfortable, even becomes something we put on with our uniforms. I didn't think Will would be the one who decided they should try things between them again."

She stopped working with the vid panel and waved him over. "I've been meaning to show you this," Beverly changed the subject and pointed at the screen. "The resolution on the bioimager here in sickbay is a hell of a lot better than a tricorder and I thought you might like it."

Crossing his arms over his chest, he regarded the screen with sleepy curiosity. "What am I looking at? Something else you've found studying the interphasic parasites?"

Resting her hand on his shoulder, she smiled and took a step closer to him. "This is about the other parasite onboard, the one specific to your chief medical officer. I asked Selar to do a complete prenatal work-up on me, after the parasite had been eradicated, just to be safe. I've been waiting for you to take a look at this part."

Lying her head down on his shoulder, Beverly inhaled sharply as he grabbed her hand with both of his. The computer recorded image played for them and he tightened his grip. Nameless emotion, he was entirely unprepared, for sucked his heart up into his throat. Her response felt much simpler as she snuggled closer to him.

The last time he'd watched the stunning images the bioimaging system could produce of a developing fetus, he'd been trying to decide if Deanna's child posed any danger to the ship. Having the luxury of being emotionally detached, he had tried to weigh the consequences that baby might have on the entire ship and the experience had held little wonder for him.

Two decades ago, he'd buried his envy and watched Wesley's development with astonishment. Jean-Luc hadn't wanted a child then and as he saw the damage Jack's death had caused his family, he'd nearly written it out for himself entirely. He had his ship and his crew were the only children he would ever need. Even when he'd been taken by the Ressikan probe, he'd had trouble deciding to have children with his loving wife Eline and taken years to embark on that experience with her.

Shaking his head at his own stubbornness, he kissed the top of Beverly's head and stared at image of the beating heart within the translucent skin of their child. Above that heart, the eyes in the enlarged, alien skull seemed to be watching them as if it could look out from the computer. Beverly's free hand slipped around and grabbed his forearm.

Tasting her hair when he kissed her head again, Jean-Luc squeezed her hands. "Thank you," he whispered when his voice failed to find much volume. His throat was still tight, as if he really were choking on his heart. Contemplating voicing the idea that he was grateful for more than just the momentary vision of their child, he realized he didn't have the words.

Beverly kissed his cheek as she shut off the image then she brought her hand back to his and held the mass of fingers against her stomach. Her forehead rested coolly on his cheek. "I needed this," she said.

"Headaches, the inability to hold back any sharp remarks that come to mind, a complete reversal of your natural grace and living with me?" he asked lightly.

She kissed his cheek and released him. "I could blame everything but my clumsiness on you," she teased, tossing her lab coat over the back of her chair. Shutting down her computer with a touch, Beverly left the scanner where it lay on her desk and let her hand rest on her stomach for a moment. Smiling as he watched her, she waited for him to move before she fell in step next to him.

"I might even be able to blame that on you if I researched it," she continued to tease as they walked through the dark corridor towards the turbolift.

Outside of the relative privacy of her office, they no longer held hands. He knew she bore him no ill-will for it however, he was still unprepared for how much he wanted the things he forbid himself. Touching the small of her back as they entered the turbolift reminded him how conscious he'd become of their physical connection. It had been quite some time since he'd been involved with a woman so completely. He'd certainly never led a monastic life, but he'd never lived with a lover for any real period.

Beverly entered their quarters first and before she could call for the lights, he wrapped his arms around her from behind and held her in the dark. Resting his arms on her chest just under her breasts, he breathed her in. Kissing his cheek, she turned in his arms and wrapped her own around the back of his neck.

His communicator chirped and she kissed his cheek before heading for the replicator. Smiling in amusement at him, she yawned and shifted wearily on her feet.

"Picard here."

"Sorry to bother you, sir," Mr. La Forge's voice was apologetic but triumphant. "The computer said you were still awake and I thought you'd like to know that repairs have been completed and we've constructed a new plasma conduit. We're bringing it online and we should be underway within the hour."

Beverly pressed a cup of tea into his hands as she passed him on the way to the bedroom. Sitting on the bed, she took of her boots and disappeared towards their closet. Leaning back against the table, Jean-Luc waited lazily for her to be visible in the doorway.

"Thank you commander," he replied.

"Commander Riker asked me to convey his sympathies that you missed the banquet," La Forge's voice had a hint of amusement.

Beverly's chuckle carried from the other room. When she reappeared in the doorway to the bedroom, she as out of uniform and wearing her long, cream-colored nightgown. As if to tease him, she wore his blue robe over her nightgown and pulled it tight over her chest as she curled up on the sofa.

"Good night Geordi," Jean-Luc finished. "Well done."

"Good night, captain," La Forge replied as the connection ended.

Moving his tea to the coffee table in front of the sofa, he sank gratefully into it and closed his eyes. With his hands behind his head, he allowed the silence to relax him. To his surprise on his left, Beverly's sigh was almost a moan.


Beverly's shoulders moved as she took a slow breath. Her hand pressed into the center of her forehead and she tried to force the sensation that bothered her away. "Got a bit lightheaded taking off my boots," she answered.

Bringing his arm around her shoulders, he pulled her closer and, to his surprise, she let herself slide all the way into his lap. Resting one hand on her shoulder, Jean-Luc stroked her hair with the other. Rolling back further into him, she tilted her head so his fingers were on the skin of her forehead. Her skin was cool but her body was a heavy warmth in his lap. He couldn't help musing that three weeks ago, he would have ended his day alone with his tea.

"It's all right,"she assured him before he could demand more of an explanation. "I thought this might return. I hoped--" Pushing her thumbs into her forehead as if she could force the feeling away, she sighed again. "I guess I hoped it was over."

As if she could hear him opening his mouth, Beverly preemptively answered his question.

"It's not like before," she promised and he felt her hand squeeze his leg just below the knee. "This is nothing, a mild annoyance."

Trying to allow himself to agree with her, he put his fears into the back of his mind. Getting rid of them all together was too difficult, but he could try to keep them in their place. Jean-Luc curled his fingers against her cheek.

"Other than patching up Deanna and discovering the 'space leeches'," he paused and made a face at his first officer's terminology. "What else did you do down in sickbay?"

Her groan was distinctly frustrated and her annoyance was so overpowering she almost lifted her head. Beverly settled and twitched her fingers against his knee instead. Silently thanking the fact that he had never been ticklish, he waited for her to find words for her frustration. "Yerbi Fandau is taking a sabbatical from Starfleet Medical, he wants to spend some time dedicated to his mitochondrial research, and there's an Arcadian replacing him. Doctor Ba Hjyu Lii ."

The stiffening of her shoulders gave away her frustration before she rolled up to look at him. Beverly reached up to brush his chin with her fingers, almost apologetically, before she finished her story. "She's an interim director, she's not supposed to implement any policy changes. She isn't really, but she insists on constantly changing which policies she wants us to make a priority. Since I boarded the Enterprise, Starfleet Medical has always expected that we transmit our caseload, then the development of any current cases, then our research and anything xenobiology needs to look into for further research."

Sighing heavily, she leaned back into his thigh and he moved her head until it seemed to be comfortable. "I could swear she writes communiques just to make herself feel important. There's no substance to them, and she marks them all 'urgent' so one of my nurses pulls me away from what I'm doing so I can hear about how exasperating it is that I haven't sent in my research on whatever medical miracle I've just pulled to keep someone on this damn ship alive for one more mission."

"When does Doctor Fandau return?" he asked when it seemed safe to do so.

"Not soon enough," Beverly replied as she closed her eyes and the anxious energy that had propelled her through her complaint faded away.

With it gone, he started to worry she was going to fall asleep in his lap. "Do you need to get anything else off your chest before we go to bed?" he asked, stroking her cheek.

"Wesley's promised to try us on subspace after his classes," she volunteered. "I did tell you, didn't I?" Beverly wondered as she forced her eyes open. "I thought we'd be up late after the Admiral's banquet." She stopped and started to lift her head from his lap. "I didn't tell you."

"It's all right," he assured her quickly as he tried to be available to steady her if necessary as she pulled herself up from his lap. Halfway to a sitting position, she quickly changed her mind and lowered her head. Resting his hand against her forehead, Jean-Luc watched her eyes close again. "I am still incredibly grateful you were willing to attend that dreary affair with me."

"I was planning on becoming ill if it became necessary," she replied dryly. "I can falsify symptoms with the best of them. You would have been the grist of the Admirals' gossip mill, but at least you would have been free."

"I appreciate your dedication."

Her lips smiled; they were tight and the gesture didn't reach the skin around her eyes. Even closed, Beverly's eyes betrayed her emotions as they tightened anxiously. Concern was keeping her awake.

Jean-Luc sought her hand and felt a sudden rush of warmth in his chest as she wrapped it in hers and brought it to her stomach. He'd been trying to adapt to the feeling of contentment that had wormed into his psyche. Occasionally, even on the bridge, he had trouble keeping himself from smiling.

"What is it?" he asked.

Her sigh this time was more directly related to the answer that followed. "Wesley's been odd, lately, more distant. His smile's seem forced and he reminds me of Jack when he'd done something he couldn't tell me. Like that search and rescue during the Cardassian War."

Jean-Luc rose his eyebrows in surprise. Jack had agonized over his decision to take the mission that demanded he be so far away from his wife when his son was about to be born. Unlike Beverly's rambling, nearly tearful communique that danced around what she was trying to ask, the one he'd received from Jack, twenty years ago, went right to the point.

Jean-Luc, Earth's lovely this time of year. There's a couch in my apartment with your name on it. Need you on this one.

"That bad?" he asked.

Pulling her legs up onto the sofa, Beverly shook her head slowly. "Sometimes I just can't read him. He goes to a place I don't understand."

"I doubt you're the only parent who feels that way," he assured her. Her silence made him worry she was still berating herself for not being to read Wesley's mind. Finding her wrist and caressing it slowly, Jean-Luc wondered what the duality of parenting would be like. Wesley was an adult about to embark on the greatest adventure of his life and this baby was only beginning to live.

Beverly's and touched his chin and drew him back. "Have you put in your request for leave yet?"

Her change of subject surprised him and it took a moment for him to realize what she was talking about. Jean-Luc nodded and he watched her smile as she felt the motion of his head with her fingers. "Admiral Necheyev has offered me an interesting choice. I intended to discuss it with you over breakfast."

"Oh?" she asked.

The single word was a plea for distraction and hearing the need beneath the artificial lightness in her tone, he acquiesced. "I can retain my command and use my leave sparingly closer to your due date, which is the response I expected from her. On the other hand, she offered me a fairly interesting second choice. I can step down from all administrative duties and serve in an advisory capacity while the Enterprise serves as a training ground for an acting captain."

That piqued her curiosity as he thought it would. "Did they give you any idea who it will be?"

"Apparently they're having trouble deciding between giving command of the Starship Voyager to Will or a young Commander named Kathryn Janeway," he replied with a touch of pride. "Her service record on the Billings is exemplary and her scientific theories are highly regarded."

"However?" Beverly filled in for him.

"Admiral Necheyev finds her diplomatic skills to be somewhat lacking--"

"I wasn't aware Admiral Necheyev had even discovered diplomacy," she teased and he couldn't help smiling. "So with your reputation as a diplomat, she thinks Janeway could learn something," she finished his thought. "The admiral's not asking you to leave the ship, is she?"

"I will remain in an advisory capacity," he answered dryly. "She's not going to ask me to relinquish my command codes, but I will not be involved in the day to day operation of the ship."

"If it's any consolation, Starfleet Medical will be sending a trainee doctor," she offered sympathetically. "Most likely someone fresh from their residency, ready to take on everything in the universe single handed. I retain administrative control, Selar becomes acting CMO on the duty roster. I'm trying to convince myself, I'm looking forward to it."

"How is that shaping up?" he wondered.

Beverly didn't get a chance to answer. The comm system chimed once, then he heard Worf's deep voice.

"Doctor Crusher, I have an incoming message from Earth," Worf announced. "It is from Starfleet Academy."

"Put him through," she requested. Dragging herself up from his lap proved difficult and Jean-Luc helped steady her. Her smile insisted she was all right, but she appeared grateful for his hands.

"It is a prerecorded message, doctor."

Jean-Luc knew Worf well enough to hear the sympathy in his voice. Beverly's smile faded into disappointment like the sun disappearing into the clouds over the vines in La Barre.

Her reply was soft but polite, "Thank you."

The triangle over the Golden Gate Bridge emblem of Starfleet Academy flashed on the viewer behind his desk before it faded into Wesley's face and the sunlight wall of his dorm room.

"Hi mom, sorry I couldn't talk face-to-face. My essay on theoretical plasma dynamics in warp nacelles is due tomorrow and I really have to get it proofed before dinner. Robin's in town, Ensign Lefler, remember her? She's getting ready to ship out on the Lexington and we're trying to catch up before she needs to leave."

"I bet the captain's with you. If for some reason he's not, say hi for me," he paused and flushed slightly. "I hope you're feeling okay. We're talking about Andorians, the Lalairu and Ikarimachten Alliance, some of the insectoid races, in xenobiology and I thought of you. I bet you have moments when you wish you weren't mammalian."

His dark little smile echoed his father.

"My emergency medical course, the one you suggested-"

Wesley's grin hinted that suggested was a too light of a term. Jean-Luc buried his head in her hair and let that hide his smile.

"-I take is covering human deliveries in two weeks. Don't get any ideas. Doctor ch'Sugiya's teaching the course, you remember her don't you? Short, Andorian with heavy white hair. She remembers you from your residency, and she told me Captain Picard did just fine the first time you had a baby."

Beverly laughed and surprised him by kissing his cheek.

"Doctor Sugiya thinks he'll do even better this time," he continued as the embarrassment faded from his face. "I'd love to hear the story. I think. To be honest Mom, I'm kind of surprised it never came up before. I guess I've never asked.

"I miss you. See you next time we're in the same sector, I do have that vacation coming up. Love you." Wesley looked sheepish again and he made a show of turning his eyes to where he imagined Jean-Luc was sitting.

"Bye Captain. Say hi to everyone for me. Goodnight mom," Wesley's smile was warm and loving but his eyes were heavy.

"He looks tired," Beverly observed as she left the sofa and headed for the bedroom. "Did you see the circles under his eyes?" she continued without waiting for him to answer. Hearing the hum of her toothbrush through the wall, he dragged himself up and started getting ready for bed.

He was dropping his uniform into the laundry slot when he found a balled up black sock on floor near the bed. Dropping to a crouch to search for the other one, Jean-Luc heard her sigh heavily and saw the light from the bathroom cease.

"Jean-Luc," she teased after a moment. "I doubt there are any monsters under there." The blankets whispered and he felt her cool hand rub across his head. "I think he's always going to call you captain."

Confused, he tried to decide what she was talking about. "Who?"

"Wesley," Beverly reminded him.

Finding her other sock by the corner of the dresser, he dumped it into the laundry slot with his uniform. Stripped down to a soft pair of shorts, he climbed into bed with her. Beverly curled into his chest and shivered once before he pulled the blankets up. Preferring to feel the air, he'd slept with thin blankets his whole life. Having her in his bed was almost warmer than he liked, however there was no denying the pleasure of her skin against his.

"He'll be a fine officer," he assured her before he realized that wasn't enough. Being in Starfleet was a part of Wesley's life, something that he was proud the young man had chosen, but that wasn't what she needed to hear. Wesley's future career wouldn't be on her mind. Part of him wondered if it would really be so bad if Wesley became a career Starfleet officer, married to his ship and duty, as so many of his role models were. He'd certainly expected to live out his life that way.

Would it been different if long ago a young Beverly Howard had been introduced to him first? Would he have had the courage to marry her then? He'd chosen the stars over Jenice. Phillipa had put her career before his and he'd respected that. There was no reason he couldn't have had a sensible, working relationship with a young Doctor Howard. Perhaps then he would have died and Jack Crusher would be consider his son as his own. Jean-Luc rarely allowed himself the weakness of questioning the past but it was hard not to be nostalgic when he thought of Doctor ch'Sugiya and the time he'd stepped in for his best friend.

Being best man was no preparation for filling Jack's shoes on the day Wesley had been born and Jean-Luc would have doubted himself more if both of his friends had not been so confidant. When Jack had gotten his orders, he sent his communique to Jean-Luc. Not to Walker, who had known them slightly longer, not to Beverly's grandmother who had raised her, but to him, Jean-Luc Picard, bachelor captain of the Stargazer.

He had never expected the course of his life to bring him there and now he felt an odd sense of symmetry. He was facing that which had seemed so alien to him twenty years ago and now it held promise. It was certainly worth a few socks on the floor of their quarters.

Chapter 5: hydrophobia

"Official log of the Diplomatic Corp, United Federation of Planets, Stardate 47254.1. Ambassador Lwaxana Troi, daughter of the Fifth House, holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx, heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed reporting. The Cairn delegation and I are on board the Enterprise-D, captained by the droll, but always pleasant, Captain Jean-Luc Picard. The Cairn are making excellent progress, especially considering the difficulty they have coming down from their elegant, though exhausting, image-based telepathy to the pedantic, plodding, overly-complicated method of discourse commonly used by most Federation members.

Though it's been an tiring time for me, I must report that significant progress has been made of the last few months. I predict the Cairn will be an outstanding addition to the Federation. In particular the simplicity with which they view the world should make them a breath of fresh air as they traverse diplomatic circles."

A lifetime ago Ian had made her feel that way, Lwaxana remembered as she let Jean-Luc's blissful happiness wash over her like warm ocean. The captain would probably be offended if she told him how much he projected his emotions. Many humans had that trait, it frequently made them more charismatic, through it wasn't something they actually understood. It frequently surprised her, even after her years of experience as an ambassador. It was part of what had made Ian so attractive, the way his deceptively simple mind had been capable of such surprises.

Her daughter swirled her drink slowly, watching the liquid cling to the sides of the glass. Deanna's sumerian sunset had been more of an accessory than a drink, and though Lwaxana had contemplated calling her on it, she didn't have the energy. Her headaches had been getting worse since she'd boarded Jean-Luc's ship. It couldn't just be the Cairn, she'd managed to telepathically teach them for weeks before the headaches had started.

In fact, it wasn't until she had known the Enterprise was coming for her and the Cairn before the pain had started. Lwaxana mused about that as she took a sip of her Andorian tea. The bitter liquid helped her concentrate. The Cairn minds were were eddies of calm in the wash of minds from Jean-Luc's crew. In a way it was more familiar, the Cairn homeworld had been much like Betazed, peaceful and full of orderly minds. She'd never been good at orderly.

Will entered and Deanna's attention was drawn to him as if he were a flame and she was a Zukerrin moth. Relieved her daughter wasn't as monastic as she frequently appeared to be, Lwaxana held the lustful thought in her mind and smiled at it. It was strong enough to feel like an ember in her mind, a knot of heat that defied the time since its ignition. Will was still quite attractive, growing seasoned and a little softer around the edges than he had been, but his soul was the same.

Pushing through Deanna's lust like waving aside a cloud of smoke, Lwaxana felt through until she found the restraint. Deanna's pain was still there, like the cold ground sucking the heat from a fire, she still had the hurt of Will's departure. Deanna had been young and foolish back than and she hadn't been able to protect her, but she hadn't realized how deep the wound had been when Will Riker returned to his starship and forgot the young woman who had made him her imzadi.

Reaching over to Will's mind, she found more chaos and had to bit her lip to bring her focus in tight enough to put his thoughts in order. Humans could be such challenging creatures. Their minds were so messy it was like trying to separate one vine flower from a wall of intertwined climbing jumiyas. It was nearly impossible for normal telepaths.

Thankfully, Lwaxana was far from a normal telepath, and a moment of concentration had Will's thoughts in a readable order. He was deeply attracted to her daughter and that mixture of lust was intoxicating, like the champagne she'd had at her wedding. Earth champagne was still high on her list of pleasant alcoholic beverages but something she saved for occasions when she could safely remember Ian. Ian's memory was sacred, an echo of something she'd never found again and had given up on knowing.

Maques, the attractive and lonely leader of the Cairn, was speaking with Deanna by the bar and the flash of anger from her daughter meant she'd decided to continue to live her lonely existence. Setting down her tea on the bar, Lwaxana let the dark skinned bartender in the fantastic hat serve her something stronger. The bartender was El Aurian, that mindset was something she recognized immediately and Lwaxana tried to remember if she'd run into her before. El Aurians were rare and beautiful minds, like picturesque pop-up books of thought and color.

Guinan, that was her name, Lwaxana remembered quickly, met her eyes and smiled mischievously. It was entirely possible Guinan had placed her name in her head. She'd known an El Aurian who'd been able to direct telepathic contacts as if he were handing her a map to her brain. He'd been much older than Guinan, at least, as far as she could tell. El Aurians were one of the few species that had mysteries she was entirely unable to unravel. It helped keep things interesting.

Setting the deep blue liquid in front of her, Guinan faded as she moved to the other end of the bar. Lwaxana took a sip without smelling it and was pleasantly surprised to discover it was Tarkalian brandy. It was both bitter and spiced, like one of Ian's hot toddy's shot with cinnamon and chili pepper. Ian would have hated it.

Deanna's thoughts had calmed to a slow boil and Lwaxana was only going to have to face the 'mother-stop-interfering-in-my-life' speech on yellow alert instead of red. She could handle that. She could handle Deanna trying to tear her face off if it meant her daughter would finally move of the rut she'd been stuck in. Will Riker wasn't the problem, Lwaxana mused. Deanna was the biggest obstacle to her own happiness.

The Tarkalian brandy she'd gotten from Guinan didn't come in synthale, not that it mattered if she got tipsy. Drunk at the welcoming reception of the Cairn on the Enterprise wouldn't even be a good footnote in Lwaxana's biography. Retreating over by the window, she looked out at the starlines and felt her own thoughts zip as quickly back to Ian. Would he want to see Deanna married? He'd always been too lenient, too willing to let the children figure things out for themselves. He'd even let Kestra climb trees in the back garden without telling her how dangerous it was.


On Betazed, she couldn't even let herself think the name, someone around her would notice. Maybe that was part of why she'd spent so much time off world. After Kestra, they'd left Lake Elnar. It was too quiet, and Kestra's touch was on everything. In the ancestral city, there had been enough minds around her to make her grief blend into the minds around her. The Troi mansion had held secrets before, and Kestra's death was just another one to disappear into the ancient walls. Kestra was gone and thoughts of her had no place on the Enterprise. Lwaxana had a responsibility to live for Deanna. To make sure her younger daughter had the life that had been denied her sister and her father.

Deanna was almost Ian's age now. Ian had been married and a father by this time. Deanna knew that, but it seemed no matter what happened to her younger daughter, Deanna would never see how brief the time she had been given could be.

Kestra would have been closer to Beverly's age and Lwaxana could almost picture her standing by the window with Jean-Luc and Beverly. Kestra would have made a good doctor, she had always taken such good care of her toys, or a Starfleet captain, she'd definitely had the will for the job. In Lwaxana's mind, Kestra wore the old red uniform, like Ian's uniform, and Ian stood beside her. He'd been starting to go gray, but he'd still be would be married because her heart was too loving to live alone. She'd be incomplete, like Lwaxana was without Ian, like Deanna was--

Deanna didn't know what it was like to truly be alone. She wouldn't- couldn't while Lwaxana was still alive. Lwaxana had little doubt that her own life had a hell of a lot of light years in it still, but Deanna just didn't understand. How could she be so blind to what was around her? Will loved her, Deanna's senses were limited, but she was imzadi. Will's feelings for her had been stirred back up and only Deanna's fears were holding her back.

Had she done that to her daughter? Wondering if she could blame herself, for making Deanna so fearful, Lwaxana finished the last of her brandy too quickly and it stung her throat. Her headache rolled deeper into her mind, drawing the ache around until it became a circle of iron around her skull.

She'd been too cautious after Kestra died. She hadn't let Deanna take enough risks, her overprotective nature had raised her daughter to be so cautious that she wasn't living. Dropping her head into her hands, she could have sworn she felt Ian's mind in the room. His mind had been so warm and Kestra's had been just like it, a sunspot that never worried about the clouds. Pressing her fingers into her head didn't help, Lwaxana sighed and realized the brandy hadn't helped either. She was more than tired, but she couldn't remember how to fight it.

What was Ian thinking? Why was he so sad? Ian wasn't here, she reminded herself firmly. Kestra had never grown up and she certainly had no business picturing her dead daughter in the wrong uniform.

Across the room, two flares of thought occurred nearly simultaneously and she turned her head away from the stars to look. The first thought was too confused, too random for her to make much sense out of, but the second mind was Jean-Luc's and his rush of concern made her stomach knot up. It appeared to be nothing, both of them were still smiling.

Beverly's drink was on the floor. The glass had rolled beneath the table and the doctor's thoughts were hot with embarrassment. Her fingers shook as she squatted to retrieve it. Jean-Luc was concerned as he dropped to the floor with her and that feeling was growing outwards like a deflector shield. Will's mind joined the confusion, adding another note to the din. Deanna was staring at her. Ian promised she was safe. She was always safe. She didn't have to be alone.

Ian wasn't in Ten Forward. Kestra wasn't in Starfleet. Kestra hadn't grown up. She'd never had a child. She couldn't be standing next to Jean-Luc and reassuring him she was all right. That was Beverly. Why couldn't she sort the voices from the past out of the present?

Kestra would have been so happy to be pregnant but Kestra was dead. Kestra was a cold, blue corpse they'd barely let her see. She didn't deserve to see her. Lwaxana had failed her daughter and she wasn't a good enough mother to hold her body. She hadn't been able to keep her safe.

Why was Beverly's drink on the floor?

Her hands shook and the empty glass from her brandy was impossible to hold on to. Hitting the carpet, it rolled under the table. That shouldn't have happened, she chided herself.

Her hands were wet. Lwaxana could feel the moisture on her skin. Her dress was wet because she'd run into the lake looking for Kestra.

Deanna was staring at her.

Baby Deanna was crying and Lwaxana couldn't make her stop. She could feel her daughter's infant terror in her mind. Ian's mind was shutting down, screaming helplessly because Kestra was gone.

Kestra was gone. In the depths of her mind, deep in the darkness where she could no longer bear to look, she knew Kestra was gone. She'd felt her die. The light that was her daughter, the light that brought her more happiness than she'd even known, had drowned in Lake Elnar. The water had been so cold that day. So dark it swallowed the sun. The water was up to her neck,Lwaxana could feel it lapping at her face and she knew she should fight it. For a moment, she thought she felt someone next to her.

How had they gotten into the water? Did they know how to swim? Lwaxana knew, she was just so tired.

"It'll be fine. The carpet's seen far worse than this," he teased her as he lifted the glass and set it upright on the table. Jean-Luc straightened and looked for Guinan behind the bar. Beverly was going to need a towel, even if she didn't want to admit it, her drink was all over the trousers of her dress uniform. Trying to remember what she'd had so he could get another one with the towel, he felt Beverly's hand grab his knee.

"Stay away from the water," she murmured. She was still crouched on the floor, knees folded beneath her. Staring past him at something unseen, Beverly's eyes started to drift.

Dropping back down to her, he reached for her chin. Jean-Luc brought her gaze to his in time to watch her blue eyes roll back into her head. Crumpling up like a dead leaf, she fell forward, limp and unconscious. Moving quickly, he managed to turn her on her side before her face hit the floor. Beverly was heavy in his arms and completely pliable, as if the life had been completely sucked out of her. Pulling his hand out from underneath her shoulder, he slammed his commbadge.

"Medical emergency in ten forward," he growled, surprised by the harshness of his own voice.

"Medical teams are en route captain," the voice was quick to respond.

Looking up to see who else had called the emergency, Jean-Luc saw Deanna and several others in a circle around another unconscious form. From the look on the counselor's face, it was her mother.

Will knelt down next to him. "Is she all right?"

Jean-Luc shook his head and slapped Beverly's cheek lightly. "Beverly--" He checked her eyes next and only saw white. Will took her wrist from his lap and he had to stop himself from taking it back. His first officer was only checking her pulse.

"Lwaxana passed out at the same time," Will explained with forced calm as he looked from Lwaxana to Beverly. "Did she say anything?"

"No," he snapped at him before he remembered, ''Stay away from the water'." Forcing the icy terror in the pit of his stomach down, he tried to concentrate. "It doesn't make any sense. There's no water. It means nothing."

"Pulse is steady," Will promised him as he moved out of the way of the medical team. Selar knelt down and Jean-Luc heard the beeping of the medical tricorder. Demanding things of the Vulcan would only make her work more difficult and hardly seem professional. He couldn't afford the luxury of being terrified even if he couldn't bury the feeling. The threat to Beverly might represent a threat to the ship and that had to come first.

Selar read the tricorder and nodded once. "She is stable," she pronounced. "Prepare for transport to sickbay."

The nurse with her, a young Bajoran Beverly had been telling him about who's name he could not currently remember, rolled Beverly off his lap without a word. The nurse tapped her commbadge twice and the transporter started to pull her away. He would have given anything to transport with her, but he had a duty to see to the situation first. His uniform had never seemed so heavy as he stared at the empty place on the floor where Beverly had been.

Will was standing next to Deanna, his arm around her shoulders as they both stared down at Lwaxana. The reception had broken up into small groups, people talked in hushed voices or simply watched the medical staff. Lwaxana disappeared to sickbay as well as the transporter took her away.

Worf waited for him to meet his eyes before he started to manage the crowd. "Please, do not be concerned," the Klingon's voice carried through the room. "Everything will be fine. Return to your quarters and remain calm, it will be necessary to conduct sensor sweeps of this room. You will be contacted if medical scans are required."

Dropping his voice to a more intimate level, he leaned closer. "I will escort the Cairn to their quarters and make sure they are kept calm,"Worf offered.

Jean-Luc nodded and felt his lips move before he remembered how to speak. "Thank you, lieutenant. I'll be in sickbay." His feet were heavy on the deck but it took most of his self control to keep them from running. Deanna was already gone, no crew expected her to be calm or depended on her strength. As counselor, she set a better example by being unafraid to show her caring for her mother. The captain couldn't allow himself that luxury.

The turbolift down to sickbay didn't even feel like it was moving. The corridor faded into a silent tomb as he walked through it. Pushing his pace to the briskest walk he could allow, Jean-Luc felt numb. He couldn't make his thoughts behave. He didn't even feel like he could think. Rationalizing his fears was impossible because he had nothing to go on. If it was anyone else, he'd be depending on Beverly to explain the situation to him.

Jean-Luc set his mind on other things. His Number One had the bridge. Data was in charge of scanning Ten Forward and looking for a scientific explanation. His ship was taken care of, the crew was safe and his responsibility was simply to was handling the diplomatic situation with the Cairn.

It was possible what was happening was some disease, something the Cairn had been carrying that had missed the biofilter. The Cairn were a new species in the earliest stage of Federation membership. They were a race of visual telepaths who had needed synthetic vocal devices and Ambassador Troi's help to learn to speak. Bringing them to the Federation council had been a simple diplomatic courier mission, that now had

The doors to sickbay slid open and revealed Lwaxana lying in the central bed. Nurse Ogawa was placing the cortical stimulators on her head. The room was silent, there were no alarms screaming, which he took as a good sign. Doctor Selar moved from Lwaxana to a bed in the corner. Scanning the room with his eyes, he found Deanna standing in the corner next to the bed Selar had moved to, arms folded over her chest. Her dark eyes were wide with concern and he saw the fear in them. The unconscious form on the bed was Beverly. Her hands had been laid at her sides, and her red hair haloed out beneath her head. Her eyes were closed, her skin pale and she just lay there, completely motionless.

Reaching for her hand, he took Beverly's cool fingers and wrapped them in warmth of both of his hands.

Deanna touched his shoulder. "Both of their life signs are stable, and the baby is fine. Selar's trying to bring my mother around but the cortical stimulators aren't working."

Guilt rushed up from his gut, hot and insistent. He hadn't thought about the baby. Squeezing Beverly's hand reassured him that she'd forgive him the oversight. Remembering the coma she'd been in after the Ullian, Jev, had raped her memories, he reminded himself that she'd woken up from that and everything had been fine. It would be again. Whatever Lwaxana was going through was something they could solve once they understood it.

Deanna cleared her throat and drew him away from his thoughts. Doctor Selar stood next to her, hands behind her back.

"Captain," the Vulcan doctor reported. "I have been unsuccessful in my attempts to stimulate cortical activity in Ambassador Troi and Doctor Crusher. The doctor only has autonomic nerve function and no cortical activity. Ambassador Troi only has activity in the paracortex, the Betazoid telepath lobe. The readings in that part of the brain are doubled. Some of the brain waves are distinctly human."

Jean-Luc broke the ice that had encased him when he'd heard 'no cortical activity' and tried to keep himself from shutting down. He had to be present, no matter how afraid he was. "Human?"

"I am running a deep brain scan on the ambassador," Selar announced. "Vulcan katras can be displaced and it is possible that the human psyche could suffer a similar dislocation. Vulcan and human brains are more similar than most Vulcans would care to admit." Her Vulcan bluntness was oddly comforting in a way someone attempting to calm him wouldn't have been. "However, there is very little I can determine without running more tests."

"Does this have something to do with the Cairn?" Deanna asked. "She's been complaining of headaches and acting distant since she arrived."

Selar nodded slightly. "Whom was she speaking with when she collapsed?"

"No one," Deanna answered with a shake of her head. "She said she was tired and retreated to the corner."

Jean-Luc was almost surprised when he realized he could speak, "Fairly out of the ordinary for her."

"My mother not speaking is a cause for alarm," Deanna said with a weak smile. "Did Beverly say anything?"

Staring down at Beverly again, Jean-Luc repeated what she'd said before she passed out, "'Stay away from the water'. Does that mean anything to you, Deanna?" It took considerable will to keep the question from being a bark.

Selar wrapped her hands around her tricorder. "Had anything happened, anything else that may have been a trigger?"

"Beverly dropped her drink," he recalled, feeling slightly foolish "She's gotten rather clumsy of late, not that she likes to admit it to anyone. Beverly was apologizing, I was going to ask Guinan for a towel."

"Guinan," Deanna repeated. "What is she doing here?"

Confused, Jean-Luc looked up from Beverly and followed Deanna's gaze. She'd entered sickbay silently and now stood, hands folded, at the foot of Lwaxana's bed.

"She's not listening," Guinan said quietly. "I don't know what's wrong with her, however, I can tell you she's not listening. When we don't listen to ourselves, sometimes the voices start to shout. Sometimes, they shout so loud we can't hear ourselves."

"Did she say anything to you?" Deanna asked the El Aurian.

"She didn't say anything," Guinan answered as she tilted her head thoughtfully. "She didn't have to."

Thinking for a moment, Deanna crossed to stand next to her mother. "She's right," Deanna agreed as she looked to Selar. "Her clothing's been subdued, she was quiet at the party. I was-" she paused and seemed to be deciding what to say. "-I was thinking about something that would have been of great interest to her, my relationship with Will, and she said nothing. She didn't speak in my mind or admit that she could hear my thoughts. For my mother, that's incredibly out of character."

"Is it possible telepathy with the Cairn had side effects of which the ambassador was unaware?" Selar asked as she and Deanna moved to study the medical scans of Lwaxana's brain.

Jean-Luc's attention drifted, other than Vulcan mind melds, he knew little about telepathy and he couldn't help Beverly or Lwaxana. Feeling Guinan move to stand beside him, he folded his arms over his chest and sighed heavily.

"I've never felt like this," he admitted softly to her. "I've been helpless before, but never quite like this."

"Maybe it's good for you," Guinan said with a nod. "You're Captain Picard, you're always in control. You're used to using your strength to get what you want. Now you can't."

"That is not acceptable," he snapped and felt his anger simmer as she smiled at him.

"You don't have to accept it," she mused. "You do have to deal with it." Guinan touched his arm, squeezing it just above the elbow before she dropped her hand to Beverly's arm. "For her, and your daughter."

As long as she stayed in the lit part of the ship, the wolf left her alone. Beverly had no idea what was going on. She'd seen the wolf wandering the corridors of what looked like a darkened version of the Enterprise. At first, she'd been terrified that the wolf was dangerous, but it seemed content to ignore her as long as she kept her distance.

The thing the wolf wanted to keep her away from seemed centered in the middle of the ship, there had been no vortexes of light, so it wasn't a warp bubble. Something was most definitely wrong with this universe and nothing she did seemed to help. She wasn't hungry or thirsty but she was still pregnant. That was almost comforting, because it kept her from being alone in the nightmarish Enterprise.

Wandering around the ship didn't make her tired, and Beverly found she'd lost all sense of time. If had she been trapped for minutes or days, she wouldn't have been able to tell the difference. Her wandering took her to the bridge, and eventually she retreated to the ready room. Jean-Luc wasn't there and her wistful disappointment in finding the ready room empty was silly but that didn't stop her from feeling it.

Sitting down in his chair, she pulled her knees up and tried to sort out what she knew. She'd been talking to Jean-Luc and she'd dropped her drink. He'd been helping her clean it up, then--

"I don't remember," she said to herself. "I was in Ten Forward, then I was here. I don't know where I am, but it looks like the Enterprise and there's a wolf. Have I ever seen a wolf? No. Okay." Drumming her fingers on Jean-Luc's desk helped her think, Beverly tried to decide if she'd seen anything suspicious.

"Was anyone behaving strangely? Did I touch anything? Think, Beverly. Who was there? Jean-Luc, Will, Deanna, Worf, the Cairn delegation, Deanna's mother--"

"At least I know it's not Wesley," she realized softly, almost wishing it was her son. It had been too long since she'd spoken to him.

Resting her hands on her lower back, Beverly sighed and wished she'd manage to enter the dream world with her medical tricorder. There was water running somewhere. Every once in awhile, there was a splashing sound that seemed ominous. The lights darkened when the water got louder. She didn't know anything about water. Betazed was supposed to be a wet planet but that didn't help her.

"The only thing I've seen is the wolf," she reminded herself. "i don't know anything about wolves or why I keep hearing water but I can't just wait here for this to sort itself out. I'll have to start with that."

Walking out onto the bridge, she heard the water again and suddenly her uniform was wet. Just the legs, where she'd dropped her drink. That had something to do with it. The drink she'd dropped in Ten Forward, right before she'd been here. When the water stopped burbling in the background, her uniform was dry again. Heading for the turbolift, she stopped short, dumbstruck when the doors opened.

Deanna stood there, staring back at her. Taking a step back, Beverly waiting for the image of Deanna to turn into a vortex or a monster. The mirage of Deanna rushed forward, her hand outstretched towards her. "Beverly, are you all right?"

Keeping her distance, Beverly backed towards the tactical console. "I'm fine."

"It's all right," Deanna promised as she stopped moving and waited by the turbolift. "I'm real. I'm in sickbay."

"Okay," she replied unconvinced. "Prove it."

Deanna, or the thing pretending to be Deanna, smiled slightly. "What would you like me to do?"

"If we're in my head, you should be able to tell me something only I'd know," Beverly extrapolated. "If we're not in my head, you should be able to tell me something I don't know."

"We're not in your head," Deanna promised. Folding her arms over her chest, the empath thought for a moment. "Okay. Right now we're in sickbay. You're in a coma and the captain is hovering."

"Jean-Luc doesn't hover," Beverly argued. "If this is in my mind, you could be telling me this because I'm reflecting my own feelings of inadequacy. Or you're representing my disconnect from my own emotions--"

"You frequently drop your left elbow when you train with Worf on the Bat'leth, last time you did it, he told me you nearly took off two of your own fingers," Deanna reminded her darkly. "You started having him teach you because you wanted to learn a sport with a sharp metal object and you knew you'd fight with the captain too much if you let him teach you the rapier. You also think the rapier is a girly weapon."

"I didn't say girly," Beverly defended herself as she started to smile back. "I said delicate. Okay, okay, I'll believe you're Deanna."

Deanna's smile turned smug and she nodded to her regally. "Thank you."

The only thing better than seeing the real Deanna would have been seeing Jean-Luc, but Deanna being real was at least proof she wasn't crazy. Deanna's stare dropped to her stomach and Beverly sighed and sheepishly shook her head. "I guess it sticks with me. Even when I'm-- Where are we?"

"In my mother's metaconscious mind," Deanna explained. "You're trapped. Somehow my mother pulled you in. Maques, one of the Cairn, is bridging my mother's thoughts so I can be here."

"Metaconscious?" Beverly repeated, trying to place the word.

"It's the psychic filter of her mind, something all Betazoids have," Deanna explained as she drew her into the turbolift. "We have to find her. Whatever this is, it's killing her."

Beverly rested her hand on her stomach and wondered if the butterflies in her stomach were part of the hallucination or if the baby was making its presence felt. "Why am I here?" she asked.

Deanna shrugged and looked up, trying to decide which deck they were going to. "Deck ten," she asked the computer. "You're telepathic and you never told me?"

Smirking slightly, Beverly managed to share Deanna's dark humor.

"I think it was an accident. Whatever this is, whatever is going on here, she's going under and she grabbed for someone," Deanna finished in a sigh and stared at the floor. "Maybe if we were closer it would have been me."

"Deanna," Beverly interrupted her thoughts. "You have a wonderful relationship with your mother. It's probably just a fluke. Besides, you're here now. I have no idea what's going on in here."

The turbolift stopped and opened onto a dark corridor. Deanna stepped off first, unconsciously putting herself between Beverly and whatever was out in the darkness.

"Have you seen anyone?"

"No," she sighed and wondered when everyone, Deanna included, would stop trying to protect her. "Is Jean-Luc all right?"

Deanna's serious expression faded into a gentle smile. "He's holding your hand. Won't leave sickbay."

"Okay," she said, closing her eyes for a moment. If Jean-Luc was with her, even with her comatose body, that was incredibly strengthening. "Let's figure this out."

They walked in silence. Without anyone else on the Enterprise, or any of the power sounds, the ship felt like a tomb. Without Deanna, it would have been incredibly creepy.

"I know why you're here," Deanna finally broke the silence. "You have everything my mother wants me to have. You're involved with a man you love very deeply and you're pregnant. I'm supposed to want that. That's supposed to make me happy." Deanna's voice was harsh and Beverly could hear the emotion she was holding back. "My mother would for love me to be more like you."



They turned a corner and the wolf confronted them again, baring his teeth as he growled menacingly. Beverly pulled back but Deanna didn't move.

"She's trying to keep us away," Deanna insisted. "We have to follow it. The wolf, and anything else in here, it's all part of my mother trying to protect herself."

"Are there wolves on Betazed?"

"No," Deanna answered with a shake of her head. "I don't know why we keep hearing the water either."

"Deanna--" the voice was male, someone Beverly didn't recognize.

"Daddy?" Deanna responded to the voice and suddenly they were standing in a sunlit room that Beverly didn't recognize.

"You've gotten so beautiful," Deanna's father exclaimed as he reached for her. He wore a Starfleet uniform, an old red one, like Jack had worn, and he had dark hair, dark eyes and an incredibly kind face. He dragged Deanna away and the room began to change

"Bev," that voice she knew so well it cut into her like a laser scalpel. "I like your hair this way."

Jack was standing in front of her, full of life and smiling from the bedroom of their quarters on Earth. It could have been twenty years ago but it felt so real she could have stepped into a time paradox.

"So, Red, when did you let it get light again?" he teased as he reached for her cheek. "It brings out your eyes."

"You're not here," she whispered, shaking her head and closing her eyes. "Jack, god, Jack you're not here."

His hands ran down her arms and she could smell him. It was his hands, his voice and his hands that stopped on her hips and pulled her closer.

"That's not the only thing you've changed," he observed slyly. "Suits you though, certainly did with Wes. Wish we'd had a chance to give him a little brother. Is it a boy?"

His face was too earnest, too loving, too familiar-- Beverly's stomach twisted viciously and she wondered if she could throw up in a hallucination.

"It's not real," Deanna said as she closed her hands down on Beverly's shoulders and pulled her back. "He's not real Beverly."

"It's not yours," she whispered to the ghost of her husband. It would be so easy to give in to this. To let Jack hold her and lose herself in the past. "I will always love you, but this isn't real. This isn't my life anymore." Prying his hands off of her hips, she held them for a moment and the warmth of his touch felt real. Fighting the tears sting her eyes, Beverly squeezed them shut and forced herself to back away.

"Goodbye Jack."

Deanna pulled her away, wrapping her arm around her. Beverly saw tears mirrored on her face. Wiping her tears bitterly from own her cheeks, Beverly shared Deanna's pain and held her hand as they started to walk again. The water became a rushing sound and as she reached down to touch the dampness on her uniform, Beverly saw Deanna's was wet as well.

"Why are we wet?"

Deanna shrugged. "I have no idea."

"Leave me alone," Lwaxana's voice was plaintive and echoed through the corridor. The water and the growling of the wolf blended together into a terrifying wall of sound that seemed to suck them into it. The Enterprise faded away, like a sandcastle being eaten by a wave, and they were standing in Ten Forward. The windows were gone and the space beyond had been replaced with grass that stretched away towards a lake that hung impossibly in void.

Lwaxana stood in the corner, almost as if she was trying to blend into the wall. Beverly hung back, letting Deanna rush to embrace her mother.

"Go away," Lwaxana begged. Her eyes were red and swollen. Her dress was nearly black. When Deanna took a step closer to where the windows were supposed to be, she stopped her. "Stay away from the water little one," she pleased. "Stay away. Stay here where it's safe."


Beverly turned her head along with Deanna as they both heard the little girl's voice. As they watched, a little brunette girl tried to clip the leash on a small, fluffy dog. Deanna's father helped her and Beverly wondered if the girl was Deanna.

Deanna just seemed confused. "Mother?"

"No!" Lwaxana cried as she shook her head and put her hands over her ears. "Don't make me watch this. I can't go through this again."

"Help me," Deanna asked softly as she took one of her mother's arms. Beverly took the other and they moved towards Deanna's father and the little girl. A baby started to cry and she could feel Lwaxana trembling.

The water crept closer, suddenly rushing around their feet. Beverly and Deanna both jumped as the water faded away.

Lwaxana started to weep. "No, Kestra. Stay away from the water." Her tone was different, less terrified and more like an exhausted mother trying to cope with her rambunctious daughter. Slipping free of them, Lwaxana joined Deanna's father on the blanket and comforted the baby.

"Kestra?" Beverly asked and Deanna shook her head again.

"I don't know her," Deanna answered as she looked around. "I think this is Lake Elnar, on Betazed. We lived here when I was a baby. My father," she paused and stared at the man on the blanket. "Just told me."

"Mommy, can I go play down by the water?" Kestra begged as she tried to hold on to the leash.

"No Kestra, stay here with us," Lwaxana said to her daughter, she seemed to have completely forgotten the other women were watching her. "Ian, the baby's teething, have you seen her ring?"

The water rushed up again, running cold over Beverly's feet. The infant Deanna was crying. The dog was barking but it sounded like the was wolf snarling at them instead.

"Mother," Deanna's voice was the calm in the middle of a storm of sound. Deanna's father and Lwaxana were holding each other and sobbing. Both of them were soaking wet. "What happened to Kestra?"

"Ian and I only looked away for a moment. The dog-" Lwaxana's voice faltered and she sank to the ground. The ground shifted beneath them, the grass faded and the carpet returned. "The dog got away. Deanna, it was my fault."

"It wasn't your fault," Deanna corrected as she grabbed her mother's shoulders. "Whatever happened here, you have to let this go. It's killing you."

Beverly hadn't thought about moving her hand to her stomach, but her right hand was there. How many times had she lost track of Wesley? Maybe a handful, but she remembered each of them clearly as if they'd been etched in her mind. The time he'd run off camping, the time he'd climbed the old pine tree behind their quarters on Earth, even the time she and Jack thought he was outside in the storm and found him asleep in their bed.

The confusion and fear on Deanna's face faded. Beverly's couldn't help her thoughts from turning dark and Deanna must have felt it. She would have given anything to be wrong, but Beverly knew why Lwaxana was so destroyed. Losing a husband was bad enough, but losing a child--

Deanna wrapped her arms around her mother's shoulders. "I have a sister I never knew," she whispered. "Tell me about her. What was she like?"

"She woke up every morning with a smile," Lwaxana sighed and the room started to brighten around them.

Beverly blinked and brought her hand up to her eyes. Her hand wouldn't move. The lights were too bright and they had somehow moved from the ceiling to directly in front of her face. Why couldn't she move her hand?

The lights swallowed her up and the mysterious force holding her hand turned out to be Jean-Luc. His hand was wrapped around hers and his face started to come into focus. The lights above her were familiar, she would have known them anywhere.

"Sickbay," she whispered. Her throat was dry and her voice was raspy. "Jean-Luc--" Wondering how long she'd been there, Beverly lifted her head. The movement of her hand drew his attention and as soon as his eyes found hers, she sat up.

"Slowly," he warned her. Relief took years off of his face and he could have been the age he'd been when they'd met. Sitting up made her head spin, but she needed to touch him. Grabbing his shoulder, she hugged him fiercely. Her balance was off. Her head ached, she had the symptoms of mild dehydration and she'd have to have been unconscious for some time to develop them.

Holding on to him was outside of their established behavior patterns, Beverly knew he was uncomfortable with displaying affection in front of the crew. She half-expected him to pull away, to politely disengage before he felt like he'd lost his dignity. Jean-Luc held on to her for dear life. She could hear the medical tricorder beep as somehow ran it around her head. There were voices in the background, but all she could feel was stubble on his face as he pressed against her cheek. He hadn't shaved and the stubble was light, it couldn't have been more than one night.

Sighing in relief, she held onto him. The moment, which was all she really expected him to allow, expanded into a minute. Her arms held tight around his shoulders and Beverly let her face slide down into his neck. His strong fingers crept down her back and dug into her flesh near her spine. He couldn't let himself touch her stomach, that was too much weakness, but he was acknowledging that their baby was all right.

As soon as he started to pull away, Beverly forced herself to let him.

"How do you feel?" he asked gently. The question was loaded, as if everything he wouldn't say was balanced on those four small words. "Welcome back."

The last made her smile. Her eyes stung and she brought her hand up to cover her eyes. Her reflexes were still off and she almost hit herself in the eye, but salvaged the motion before she caused any damage.

"Bright," she complained. Even though the lighting in sickbay was dim, she needed a good reason to cover her eyes. Crying in public wasn't something she was willing to do. In front of Jean-Luc was acceptable, but it was going to take several minutes to get herself checked out of sickbay and she had to hold together until then. Turning around to check her own bio-readings, Beverly shut her eyes for a moment and diagnosed the foggy headache as fatigue and pregnancy, nothing serious. Pressing her eyelids shut, she opened them to renewed clarity and read the biobed.

Low blood glucose, low blood pressure, mild dehydration, serotonin and other neurotransmitter depletion; she filed the list away and watched the fetal heartbeat indicator flash quickly. That was the most important readout. Her feet were cold. When Beverly started to slip from the bed, she realized she'd been stripped and gowned. Her thin black socks weren't as warm as her boots and her body wasn't sparing much circulation for her extremities. Balling her chill fingers into fists, she crossed her arms, tucked her firsts beneath her sore breasts against her chest and hoped they'd warm quickly.

"Beverly--" Jean-Luc's tone was harsher than she expected. "You've been unconscious for eleven hours. Take it easy."

Normally, she would have snapped back. Biting her tongue kept her irascible reply silent, however Beverly needed to get out of sickbay. Slipping past Jean-Luc, she was pleasantly surprised that her legs were so sturdy. She could feel his eyes on her but all she could think about was getting back in her uniform and escaping. Once she knew the baby was all right, she was leaving and nothing Selar or Jean-Luc could say would keep her confined.

Knowing Selar was thorough enough that she could expect to find the results of several amniotic scans in the computer, Beverly was relieved the last had been concluded just half an hour ago. Fetal heartbeat was steady; growth factors and metabolic rates were both excellent. Tapping the controls, she transferred the images to the viewer in their quarters. She would allow herself that when she was safe.

Skimming her own more advanced readouts on the central screen, she nodded absently to herself. Blood gases were normal. Her neural chemistry was a little off and her brain demonstrated signs of stress. All understandable, none of it important enough to keep her here any longer.

"Alyssa," she called and heard the brusqueness in her voice. Jean-Luc started to open his mouth and she tried to wave him quiet. "Please log my official release in the computer. Selar, thank you for your care. I'll take today off and I'll be back to duty tomorrow."

"Beverly-" he protested over her thinly disguised orders. "You're rushing yourself out of here. We don't fully understand what happened to you."

"Nor will we," she insisted briskly. Meeting Selar's dark eyes, Beverly knew she couldn't plead with her Vulcan colleague but she could appeal logically. "Does anything in my bioreadings require my continued presence in sickbay?"

Selar narrowed her eyebrows and serenely looked over the same data Beverly had just checked. She nodded once. "You will only be a hindrance to your own recovery if you remain in sickbay," she pronounced. "Before you return to duty, I am the chief medical officer. Doctor, you will take two days off. You will report for a full physical examination later today and a second tomorrow before I reinstate you."

Nodding quickly, Beverly consented and she ground her teeth in frustration. Hanging on to that kept the stinging in her eyes tolerable. She was not going to cry in sickbay. "Thank you," she said perfunctorily.

She could feel Jean-Luc's eyes on her as he walked with her to the door. Rounding the corner into the turbolift with him, Beverly blinked quickly and beat her tears back for another few minutes.

"What time is it? Do you need-?" she didn't get to finish the question.

"Just before eight hundred hours, Data has the bridge," he explained. "Will did a double shift. I'll return to rotation tomorrow."

Her throat was too tight and that emotional response had no place in the situation. Everyone was fine. It hadn't even been that bad. Maybe a little confusing, but certainly not worth crying about.

Jean-Luc hadn't slept, her mind nagged her. If he had, he would be getting ready to to take alpha shift. He'd been too worried to leave her side, but neither of them were comfortable even hugging for too long in front of the crew. She'd been comatose and as far as he'd known, possibly dying of an unknown ailment. Holding her hand and waiting for her, Jean-Luc had been in sickbay all night.

Their silence carried them all the way home and Beverly shivered as they finally escaped into their quarters. Her hands and feet were still cold and she was the kind of queasy that came from not eating enough or recently. With the door shut behind them, Jean-Luc went to the replicator and returned with a large class of water. As she drank, he grabbed one of the blankets from the bed and draped it over her shoulders. Leading her to the bed, he sat her down and started rubbing her shoulders through the blanket.

"I need-" she began.

"-You need to eat," he finished. "Food and rest are your prescriptions."

Grabbing his wrist as he moved away from her, Beverly pulled him down, brought his head level with hers and kissed him urgently. He responded by returning completely to her, finishing the kiss and holding her head against his stomach as he stood. Feeling his breathing and the warmth of him was as important as finally being out of sickbay.

Jean-Luc released her and slowly kissed her forehead. "Stay here."


Tears were hot on her cheeks and started to cool as they reached her chin. Wiping her eyes with part of the blanket, she dredged up a smile as he returned from the replicator. Taking the warm porcelain from his hands, Beverly watched as he stripped off his uniform. He still took the time to fold it, in a manner, though he was careless with the result and let it lie abandoned on the floor. Crawling into bed behind her, he slipped her into the warm circle of his arms and dropped his head onto her shoulder. He pressed the spoon into her hand, and took over the responsibility of holding the bowl.

She'd barely bothered to look at what he'd brought. The first bite told her it was hot oatmeal with cream and brown sugar. Comfort food, she mused and reminded herself to chew.

"I love you."

Her own reply was muted, half swallowed with oatmeal, but the attempt made him chuckle. Swallowing and speaking around the spoon, she frowned."I love you too, but this is lumpy," Beverly realized as she slowed eating enough feel the texture in her mouth.

"Perhaps the replicator is malfunctioning," he suggested. "I could have a technician--"

Her derisive grunt made him chuckle. Trying to imagine what some poor ensign would think of the captain nearly naked in bed with his lover as he tried to fix the replicator made her giggle. Beverly felt her tears start to dry on her face. With both of them content just to be in close proximity, she ate until her spoon scraped the empty bottom of the bowl.

"Beverly," he began, stealing the empty dish to command her full attention. "Guinan told me something I want to share with you."

Getting up for more food wasn't worth leaving the warmth and security of his arms, Beverly decided. Pulling her knees up, she grabbed the bottom of the blue gown from sickbay and started to pull it off.


As soon as he realized what she was doing, Jean-Luc helped her ease out of it. Curling onto her side, she felt him move with her, holding her to his chest as they settled into bed. The feel of his skin against the bare skin of her back was warmer and more comforting than simply being held.

Once they was settled, with her head on his arm and his other arm around her stomach, Jean-Luc finished his thought. "Guinan told me I needed to accept my helplessness."

Turning his hand down so she could kiss the back of it, Beverly agreed, "Sounds like her."

"I hadn't realized how it would feel," he admitted as one of his hands moved up into her hair. His voice was gravely and caught in his throat. "Being helpless is extraordinarily difficult for me and she not only told me to embrace it, but insinuated that I needed to do it for my daughter."

What he was saying sounded important, but she couldn't place why. His lips were touching the back of her ear, it tickled and a more rational thought wasn't forthcoming.

"We didn't ask the computer to tell us the sex yet," she remembered through the haze. "Think she's right?"

Jean-Luc ran his thumb over her lips lazily and she kissed it. "I believe it's more than likely," he replied lightly. "I told you either was fine."

"Healthy, brilliant and in love with Shakespeare, right?"

"You forgot beautiful like her mother," he added. "I was thinking about it while you were eating. It definitely makes it seem more real to think of her instead of 'it'. Though, I have to admit I didn't pay enough attention to Guinan's proclamation at the time."

"Not my fault," she insisted as she heard him yawn behind her head. "The party was boring. Lwaxana's head, now that was much more interesting. " Telling him about it, how Deanna had made fun of her to prove she was real, and how much pain Lwaxana must have been in to seal everything away for so many years, brought her to to the more difficult part.

"Jack was there," she finished, listening to the slow sound of his breathing. Jean-Luc had fallen asleep long before she'd gotten to this point and mentioning Jack would have only made him guilty if he were awake. "He looked happy." He would be happy, she decided. Jack and Jean-Luc had coexisted in her heart a long time, this was just the next phase. Jack had been a good man, an excellent husband and his memory was something she cherished. That memory was all she had, but all she needed of him.

"I love you," she said and counted it for both men.
Chapter 6: nocturnal

"Computer, set alarm for fourteen hundred hours. Download the Starfleet Command subspace traffic, security level two, the Federation News Service, and open personal log, Riker, William T."

Rubbing his beard made the itch worse, Will sighed again and ran his hand up towards his eyes. The ache behind them was going to take more than seven hours of sleep to cure. Unfortunately, seven hours was all he had time for.

Heading for the replicator, Will replicated a synthale and took a sip of the cool liquid. Sighing, he turned his attention back to his open personal log.

"Personal Log, Commander Will Riker, Stardate 47255.2. Lwaxana and Beverly have both been released from sickbay. Deanna and Maques were successful in drawing Lwaxana out of her metaconscious mind and in doing so, freed Beverly. I wasn't directly involved, but I feel relieved. Might have something to do with Deanna. I know it sounds silly, I'm no telepath, but I've had more of a sense of her lately. Like an echo. I'm probably making it up, trying to find something to explain how I feel."

"Yesterday, before the reception, the captain mentioned that Starfleet Command offered him a promotion and transfer to a starbase. He didn't take it, can't see him ever wanting to settle down like that. Still, I had that moment. I saw myself captaining the Enterprise and it felt good. Guess I'll have to stop waiting for that big chair and consider setting my sights on another one. End log."

Taking a much longer drink of synthale, he set the glass down and started pulling on the collar of his uniform. The time he had to sleep was getting briefer by the moment. Will glanced at the replicator and then down at his middle and decided he would be better off going to bed without eating. His hunger could wait for the morning.

Beverly and Lwaxana were both going to be fine. Sickbay had reported their release before he'd turned the bridge over to Data. He assumed Deanna was with her mother and he was relieved for them both. Lwaxana might be overbearing but she was all the family Deanna had. Losing her would have left Deanna completely alone in the universe. Losing his father meant the same isolation for him, but he and his father had never really gotten along. Deanna and Lwaxana were considerably closer and his heart had been with her.

The captain had checked in before he'd left sickbay. As much as he'd tried to hide it, the relief in Picard's voice had been palpable over the commlink. Will had rarely seen the captain shaken. Will had seen moments of doubt over the years, particularly after Picard had been rescued from the Borg, however last night was different. The captain was shaken on a personal level and that had gotten under Will's skin.

Spending most of his uneventful night shift on the bridge in thought, Will was fairly certain he knew what was bothering him. Picard was moving on and Will was holding still. He'd spent six years serving under one of Starfleet's most confirmed bachelors and somehow Picard had started a family first. Will had allowed his life to stagnate. It wasn't that he lacked the company of women. Will preferred a wide variety of relationships and had no problems finding partners who shared that desire. It had been a good life. He'd been happy.

Then he'd turned down Lieutenant Villegas two days before they'd picked up the Cairn delegation. She was a newer member of the Stellar Cartography team and anyone who could make black hole mapping sound exotic would have been worth dinner and a jazz concert. He hadn't been interested. Jessie Villegas was gorgeous, intelligent and interested enough in him to make a pass at a superior officer. Will had turned her down because he had no interest in gorgeous, intelligent women who weren't Deanna Troi.

That was a new thought. A new problem that he hadn't really let himself think about before. He wasn't simply freshly enamored with the idea of settling down, Will wanted to settle down with her. He had just crawled into bed when the chime dragged him up again. Running through the short list of who it could be, he walked to the door. The captain was unlikely. Worf was assisting Data on the bridge. Of course, he had been foolish enough to turn down Lieutenant Villegas.

The door hissed open and revealed the exhausted subject of his earlier thoughts.

"Deanna," he greeted her while burying a yawn. "Come in."

"I'm sorry," she said sincerely. "I lost track of time."

"It's a reasonable hour, somewhere," he teased to make her smile. Will thought he could feel her trepidation. "Want anything?" he asked with a tilt of his head towards the replicator. Deanna looked as spent as he felt. The whites of her eyes were shot with red and dark circles had been etched in the pale skin beneath them. Her uniform looked slept in. Though, judging by the circles under her eyes, it had only been rumpled by a short nap.

Her voice was listless and past the point of exhaustion when she spoke, "I had a sister." She held her ground and he wondered if she needed to be hugged. Deanna would attempt to be stoic until she felt safer. He swore he could feel her in his mind, like a knot in his back he couldn't get out.

"Her name was Kestra," Deanna continued, dropping her head to her hands and staring at the floor. "She would have been six years older than I. She had a dog. She liked to sing with my father. She drowned. She drowned and my mother excised her from her life. She deleted journal entries, cut ties with friends who knew about Kestra. We moved. She had an entire part of her life she couldn't face when Kestra died."

She'd begun smiling weakly but it faded as her story finished. He'd seen her be too tired to cry before but this was more than that. Deanna had flashed through her grief and settled into numbness. He could see that in her face. Will was also convinced he could feel it in his head. Like a patch of black ice on the path when he was a kid, he just knew it was there.

"She nearly killed herself," Deanna murmured bitterly. "Just about dragged Beverly with her. Will, when my father died, she told me to be strong. That missing my father was acceptable, even good, and I could do it every day of my life. Denying my pain would take something away from his memory," she relaxed her control and the numbness started to burn away. Her black eyes met his and blazed. "All of it was nonsense. She took the biggest loss of her life and buried it. If it hadn't been for me, when my father died she probably would have deleted him from her life. Put him away with his pictures and never spoke of him again."

Her hands had become fists in her lap. She stared him down as if daring him contradict her. Despite her anger, he was drawn to her and he wondered if that was why she'd come. Deanna had other friends on board but he was the one who handled her temper best.

"She's all right now," he assured her as he searched for calm. Leaving the space where he stood by his bed, he moved closer to her. "Now you know about Kestra-" he smiled slightly on the name, hoping that would help. "-You can share that with her."

Deanna shook her head. Her fists tightened until her knuckles were white. "She lied to me."

"She lied to a lot of people," Will reminded her. He sat down next to her on the couch and scratched his beard. "It'll hurt like hell but it'll go away. People lie. People distort the truth because they can't face what they're seeing. Your mother's no different."

"She's prided herself on honesty," Deanna retorted. "She calls other cultures primitive, mocks humans for saying one thing and thinking another and lords her supposedly better state of evolution over everyone she knows."

He let himself go and slid with the current of her rage. "Including you-"

"-Especially me," she continued, unfolding her fingers and wrapping her arms tight around her chest. "I thought she was the strongest person I knew. I was even starting to think she had a point and maybe I should think about having a family." Deanna shuddered. Her anger was vivid enough to share the couch with them like a living thing.

"I'm not going to run into some man's arms, profess my undying love for him, have a child and then be utterly destroyed when that man or that child dies."

He tried to keep his voice calm, "You can't assume everyone around you is going to die."

Deanna snorted. "Really?" She lifted a hand and answered her own question. "Your mother. My father and my sister. Beverly's parents and her husband. Geordi's mother. Worf's biological parents. Data considers Doctor Soong his father and he's dead. We almost lost the captain a month ago. Loss is a better companion than most of our friends. How many friends from the Academy have you lost? How many are happily married?"

Scratching his head didn't immediately bring any numbers to mind and Will shrugged. He reached for the hand she was using to count. "My mother loved me very much and I have never doubted that. Geordi had some trouble but he adjusted to losing his mother. Worf loves his Klingon and human parents. Beverly's life continued when Jack died. Your father means worlds to you and I know you will love your sister. I know how much your mother must have loved her."

"It's not some kind of crooked Ferengi bargain," she snapped back as she pulled her hand away. "We don't trade brief periods of love and the happy memories that follow for gut-wrenching loss. My mother lost my sister thirty years ago and it still hurts to think of her. It radiates from her like black tar and I feel like I'm covered in it. It hurts to breathe."

She stared upward, blinking quickly though her eyes were dry. "I'm the last of her family and I have no plans to change that."

"It's all right."

"It's not," Deanna insisted with a shake of her head. "When she looks at me she sees the end."

"She sees the daughter she loves very much," Will argued and took her hand. The contact made her jump.

"Who's wasting her life," she retorted.

Deanna squeezed his hand in return. Closing her eyes, she shook her head and he felt the switch. Something had changed and he was certain he felt the release before she smiled at him.

"I'm losing myself in this, aren't I?" she asked finally.

"I believe a wise counselor I know would remind me to make what I wanted paramount," he teased and leaned back. Will touched her shoulder, offering her the comfort of his arms if she wanted it. "You can't live your life for your mother, your sister or anyone else that's not you."

"Well said," she replied smirking.

Feigning offense, Will leaned in to kiss her. "I do pay attention to you," he teased.

"Good." Deanna let him hover above her lips for a moment before she met him. The kiss began innocently. He'd intended it that way and she was the one who turned it passionate. Will had sweet memories of kissing her and how right it felt. He had no intention of being swept away. He'd only meant to comfort her. She wanted something else. He held the back of her head in his hand and wondered if he should stop.

"Deanna," he interrupted. Regretting the motion, he pushed her away. "You don't want this."

She stared through him, dark eyes flashing. "And you're suddenly an expert on what I want?" Pushing her tongue into his mouth, Deanna stalled his reply.

Will felt the soft heat of her tongue against the roof of his mouth but the more consuming sensation was her presence in his mind. Deanna slipped into his thoughts. He'd been right about feeling her presence more acutely. Her touch now was enough to make his hunch solidify. Feeling Deanna again, Will got a new dose of a very old drug. Whatever immunity he'd built up to her presence collapsed like a paper shield against an ion storm.

She was the one who'd always said that they couldn't risk a relationship while they were on the same ship. Deanna had reminded him of that long enough that he had integrated it into his psyche.

"You don't know what you want," he accused her without reining in his tone. "You're lost, confused, exhausted--"

"If I were any other woman on this ship--," Deanna snapped back at him. She calmed slightly and added, "I can feel how much you want me. You can't hide that from me."

Part of his mind insisted that she was right and they were only deceiving themselves. They were lovers that had always intended to find each other again. Will still knew to run his fingers behind her ear. He remembered how to kiss the corner of her mouth and make her laugh before he returned to kiss her fully. She obviously remembered that running her tongue beneath his and digging her fingers into the back of his neck drove him crazy.

She crawled across and straddled his lap. That motion pushed them past the precipice where they teetered between friends and lovers. Deanna hadn't ground her hips into his for nearly ten years but he remembered exactly how much heat that generated.

Lust wasn't the issue. Resisting her was agonizingly difficult, Will didn't want to fight her. Deanna's touch in his thoughts was something he craved like a narcotic. She threatened to consume him. All the dependence she was so disgusted by surged up in him and he relented. Reaching for her mind, he felt the thread that connected them and followed it back to her.

Deanna's shields fell away and he was in her mind again. That was more intoxicating than the smell of her hair or the weight of her hips. Her thoughts were familiar, like walking into the house where he'd lived the best parts of his life. Will could feel the differences. The house had been remodeled. So many of her insecurities were gone, painted over with the brighter colors that a career and years of experience had given her. Despite the changes, he was home.

Even without touching her, Will could have lost himself. Her thoughts would have been enough to consume him. He could have leaned back and lost himself in the intimacy of their sharing.

Deanna led them towards the physical side. She knew how to drag his pajama shirt off over his head in one motion and she'd remembered how kissing the hollow of his throat made him little zipper in the back of her uniform hissed when he undid it. Sliding it down made him smile and he glanced at the bed he'd vacated only a few minutes ago.

Wondering if he still remembered how, he asked mentally, "There?"

Deanna's laughter in his mind suggested he was less rusty than he feared. "What about here?"

"Less space to move around," he teased and dragged her arms free off her uniform top. He could see the bright purple strap of her bra slip out from underneath the dull gray tank top. "Do they match?" he wondered aloud playfully. Stroking her thighs up to her crotch, he ran his thumb over her and imagined the bright purple panties hiding beneath her black uniform trousers.

"There's one way to find out," she quipped in his thoughts. "You do remember that, don't you?"

Lifting her up as he stood, Will heard her giggle as he staggered towards the bed. It was just a few meters and he deposited her on top of his rumpled blankets. Deanna sat up and tugged off her boots before wrapped her legs around his waist and pulling him closer.

"You still don't wear anything underneath these, do you?" her telepathic voice hummed with excitement in his thoughts.

He grinned wickedly and shook his head. "Should I?"

Will eased her trousers off her hips and chuckled out loud when he revealed bright green panties. Deanna laughed with him, pulled her tank top, off her head and tossed it aside.

"Busy morning," she murmured into his mind. "You're just going to take them off anyway."

He couldn't reply in her mind again. He ran his hands over the exposed skin of her stomach and cupped her breasts through her bra. The silk was smooth under his hands. The bra had a lacy, flowered design that was as far from regulation as most of Lwaxana's dresses. The clasp was golden and sat neatly in the center of her chest. Kissing across a breast on his way to the clasp, Will felt the air on his butt. She'd taken advantage of his distraction and relieved him of his pajama pants.

"Hurrying?" he wondered.

"We're both old," Deanna whispered into his ear. She purred aloud, "We'll fall asleep."

Grabbing her through her panties, Will made her moan and kissed her chin. He eased her around to lie beside him. Teasing her with slow fingers through the silk, he abandoned her to undo her bra.

"We're not that old," he projected into her head.

Deanna's smile had a touch of pride and she tossed a leg over his waist before she flipped up over him. She remained still for a moment, straddling his legs like a queen. "Imzadi," she promised in his thoughts. Her finger ran along his lips and stopped long enough for him to lick it. Guiding his hands to her hips, she insisted that he remove her panties.

Kissing her again was sweet, Will tilted his hips up in hers and both of them sighed in anticipation. She was right. They'd be quick tonight, but they had all the time in the universe to do better next time.

The green silk landed on the floor of his quarters. She needed very little priming with his fingers before she wanted him inside of her. Will kept his fingers low, coaxing little moans as he returned to familiar motions. Once he was inside, nothing he could send her would explain how he felt. His chest started moving faster. Deanna's hands were in the hair of his chest and he closed his eyes. He could see enough with his mind to find his way.

A few thrusts had them into a rhythm and Deanna led him. Shivering and throwing back her head, she rode out the first orgasm. It was weak, like a warning shot, and neither of them stopped moving. Her hands clutched his wrists as she rocked faster. Her mind was so intense, so focused on his thoughts that Will was dimly aware of her body. His body continued to make love, moving independently of his distracted mind. His fingers finally sent her into a real, aching release. The rush of her orgasm through her mind sucked him in. Losing himself in her wasn't quite the perfection Will remembered, but it was close. Closer than he'd been since the last time.

Deanna hung over him for a moment, panting and gleaming with sweat. They hadn't turned off the lights. The silent contentment of holding her could have lasted the rest of his life. It felt right to have her again.

"My shift's at fourteen hundred," Deanna sighed into his chest.

"Fifteen," he boasted and kissed the top of her head.

"Do you remember when we could stay up all night?" she asked wistfully. Yawning and stretching as if she were a cat, she crawled out of bed.

He could't speak. Will's mind focused on finding hers even though exhaustion threatened to drag him under. "Imzadi," he managed after the silence had dragged out so long that he worried she'd already left.

The doors hissed as she departed but he heard her voice in his his mind, "Sleep well."

Captain's Log: Stardate 47304.2. The Enterprise has arrived at Kesprytt Three in order to evaluate an unusual request on the part of the Kes for associate membership in the Federation.

The Federation usually didn't consider parts of worlds as members. The united decision of a world to join was usually paramount to their acceptance. The idea that they were considering a partial member nagged at him. The fact that Beverly was pulling a double shift meant he was alone with his thoughts on the subject. He hadn't eaten dinner alone in some time and he found the empty table disconcerting. He ate while reading the history of the Kesprytt and tried not to look at her empty corner of the table. Jean-Luc then spent the rest of his evening finding things to do. With Beverly absent, he worked through his Mozart trio until his fingers were sore, and listened to Doctor sh'Prem's lecture on the development of early Andorian heiroglyphs through ice carving.

He nearly fell asleep reading the fourth chapter of an old historical romance from Qo'noS and reluctantly went to bed without her. The hissing of the door sometime later woke him from sleep. Beverly was barely out of her uniform, between the blankets and pressed to his chest before she was asleep. She held him tightly and Jean-Luc tried to recall if there were any difficult cases in sickbay that might have exhausted her.

Beverly's cheek was warm against his chest and he lazily stroked her hair. He knew getting up to ask the computer about her shift would only wake her. He decided to live with his curiosity and slid his hand down to rest on her shoulder. Running through his thoughts in an effort to quiet his mind, Jean-Luc settled into the familiar routine.

Lwaxana Troi and the Cairn had arrived safely on Earth without further incident. The Kesprytt excursion promised to be a fairly intriguing mission. Evaluating possible Federation members was one of the more interesting tasks that the Enterprise drew and Jean-Luc was pleased to be on a diplomatic mission. Exploring the alien cultures of space was one of the better parts of seeking the unknown, and a divided world was a unique challenge. Kesprytt was also considered safe enough that he could take on the mission personally, Beverly was even slotted to accompany him.

He'd gotten a death glare when he'd mentioned casually that Deanna or Selar could take her place. She'd replied that Will could just as easily take his and they hadn't discussed it again. Kesprytt was her first away mission since her pregnancy. He still wasn't sure he was entirely comfortable with it. Short of ordering her to stay, Jean-Luc had few options. Beverly being pregnant had taken away the comfortable generalities with which he viewed personal attachments. Without his feelings for her, this mission would simply have a note of extra caution.

He wouldn't feel better knowing she was on Earth, Jean-Luc reminded himself. Being head of Starfleet Medical again would be just as stressful as the Enterprise and he disliked the thought of being apart from her. Knowing he was missing her presence and the development of his child was almost as unpleasant as knowing she was in danger. The selfishness of that thought astounded him. In the last month, he'd become both lover and expectant father. He'd had little time to adapt to either but he was increasingly attached to both roles. Perhaps when he understood himself better, the insomnia would stop.

His own ability to fall instantly asleep had become more elusive since she'd moved in. Jean-Luc wasn't quite sure how to rationalize it to himself. Many of his thoughts surrounding the drastic changes in his life were yet unformed. He didn't yet want to take her arrivals home for granted. Being awake did give him extra time to think. Listening to her breathing and feeling the motion of her chest against his stomach, he remembered Jack laughing and telling him Beverly slept through everything but red alert, summoning commlinks and Wesley.

Jean-Luc watched the stars scroll lazily by as they orbited the planet below and let his thoughts drift. Holding his pregnant lover, he wished Jack was alive. If he somehow could have had Beverly in his life this way and Jack to discuss it with, it would have been perfect. As it was, Guinan was his only close friend who understood and he hadn't found much time to talk to her. He could almost hear her voice reminding him that nothing changed instantly. No matter what his feelings were, or how quickly Beverly had moved into his quarters, it would take time.

When he woke, the bed next to him was still warm. Jean-Luc hadn't heard their alarm or the chime of the commlink. The Enterprise had come out of Kesprytt's shadow and the Kesprytt star sent odd shadows through their quarters. The thin blanket had been dragged partially off the bed and following that with his eyes led him to the weak light in their lavatory.

As he slipped out of bed, he touched her side of the bed and stopped short. His hand was sticky. Some dark substance had left small stains on her side of the bed. Whatever it was, it coated an area of his chest. Rubbing it between his fingers, he brought his hand up and smelled the faint, metallic scent of blood. Wiping it off on the sheet, he spent a moment trying to remind himself that the surge of panic was unwarranted. Leaving the mess, he followed the light to the lavatory.

All she had on were her black panties. They made the skin of her back and legs appear more pale than usual in the weak light. Beverly stood over the sink. Her elbows balanced on the rim and her hair hung down on the left side of her neck. Touching her shoulder, he announced his presence without speaking.

Her right hand was clamped down hard on the bridge of her nose. Beverly's eyes flicked over to him and her expression turned apologetic in the mirror. Blood stained the skin above her lips. More blood on her cheek had started to dry. From the stain, the left side of her face had been the one pressed to his chest. Deep red blood dotted her pale breasts with a few spots like freckles. Ignoring the distraction of her bright pink nipples, he looked down into the sink. Fresh blood stood out in red droplets in the middle of the water.

Washing his hand in the water turned it pink. He grabbed a towel from beneath the sink and dried his hands.

Her voice was muffled by her grip on her nose. "I'm sorry," she murmured through her fingers. "Didn't mean to get you."

"You should have woken me," he began. After hearing the tension in his voice, he stiffened reflexively. "Are you all right?"

Beverly's bloody half-smile was too weak to be convincing. "It just started. Made a mess, didn't I? Is the bed--"

"I don't care about the bed," he said curtly and wished he could force his tone to even. The hot, unwelcome fingers of panic dug into his stomach. Checking by the door, Jean-Luc saw the grey and blue medkit and relaxed a little. "Should we go to sickbay?"

"Did you know Bajoran women sneeze uncontrollably?" she asked. Completely ignoring his question, she watched the reflection of his face. The hand on her nose trembled slightly but her lips were pink and healthy. Her eyes were bright and alert. He still couldn't tell if she was just putting up a front to keep him from worrying or actually all right. "Klingon women have a drastically improved sense of smell. Cardassians have wild fluctuations in body temperature. Vulcan women find their emotional control improves while they're pregnant. Andorians have auditory hallucinations that are said to predict the temperament of the eggs."

Panic still held his stomach in a death grip and ran hot up the back of his neck. Xenobiology lessons were not the answer he was looking for. "Beverly--"

"You were supposed to sleep through this," she sighed. "I knew about Klingons and Vulcans, but I've never treated a pregnant Bajoran. Sneezing sounds nice, doesn't it?"

Wearily realizing he wasn't going to let the subject drop, she smiled weakly. She finally explained, "It's just another side effect." Grabbing his hand, she brought it up to her nose. Beverly let him take over the responsibility of keeping pressure on her nose. "Here," she directed him up half a centimeter with cool fingers. "Maybe if you do something you'll stop staring at me like I'm hemorrhaging. Just give it another minute."

Jean-Luc held his fingers tight on her nose. Watching her swallow harshly, he caught a dark hint in her eyes. He had so little experience with Beverly being sick that he was still only learning to read the signals in her face. Something else was wrong. He couldn't take his eyes off hers in the mirror. Torn between demanding an explanation or forcing her to sickbay, he found himself having trouble finding words for either one.

Beverly's sighed, "Jean-Luc, even Data could see through that poker face."

The words were immediately followed by a brief smile and that made panic twist his gut sharply. The perverse delight she took in making him spell everything out frustrated him. His words were harsh, "You're bleeding."

"It's stopped," she retorted and pulled his hand free with a smile.

"Your hands are shaking."

She had no answer for that and retreated to the previous question. "I've weakened all of my peripheral capillaries," she reminded him. "My blood volume has to increase to meet the demands of the fetus and my circulatory system has to catch up. Dizziness, numbness in my extremities when the pressure's too low, swelling when it's too high; all of it's to be expected."

He wasn't sure she believed it. She was smiling too much. Her constant assurances and the neurotic tricorder sweeps she ran in the morning were all of it was part of the same terrifying fact that this could be temporary. The baby was fragile and all that had come after her unique conception was just as tenuous. That fear was more palpable than he cared to admit and he wondered if she shared it.

"I had a full physical last night courtesy of my new nurse, Khel Sahad-" she paused. Closing her eyes uncomfortably, Beverly swallowed. After a beat, she continued, "Bajoran, You'd like him. Calm, thoughtful, polar opposite of Ro, deeply religious. He told me the prophets told him to walk-" Beverly gulped the last part of her thought and clamped her eyelids tighter. Focusing on the dark circles in the skin under her eyes, he wondered if she'd slept at all. Her voice was strained, full of the forced cheerfulness she hid behind when she was upset. He knew that tone but now he was starting to hear the frustration beneath it.

"Out among the stars?" Jean-Luc finished with a half smile. He'd taken an interest in the Bajoran religion, mostly because of his friendship with Ro Laren. The Bajoran people had relied their religion to carry them through the occupation. So many cultures had moved away from religion, but theirs was literally woven into the fabric of the space around them.

"Good bedside manner," she added. Her pride was mixed with a hint of something else.

He couldn't picture her allowing herself to be examined unless she was truly concerned. If Beverly was worried, she'd try to hide it. If she'd been bad enough to consent to a physical, this nausea wasn't a new problem. He touched her stomach tentatively and then kept the contact when she didn't pull away.

Her lips became a thin line in the mirror and she quit speaking. Resting his hand on her stomach, he silently reminded her that he would like an explanation when she felt up to it. Jean-Luc settled his hand on the slight rise he associated with their daughter. It wasn't visible in her uniform. Studying her naked in the mirror, he could find the slight differences in her figure. Her breasts were rounder and her hips were starting to gain more flesh.

She dropped her head and her stomach twitched beneath his hand. Then she abruptly pushed him back. He was still holding her waist when she vomited. Her ribs expanded then contracted hard. Liquid from her stomach splashed into the water of the sink and he could smell the acrid fluid. She gasped, choking before she wretched again. The bloody nose was an annoyance and he realized the nausea was the real problem. Distracting himself as he watched her ribs spasm beneath the skin of her back, Jean-Luc felt his gorge rise as remembered the last time he'd watched someone vomit.

He and Jack had celebrated a little too hard that night. Wesley was two, and Beverly's message from Earth had been all about how his first word had been 'star'. Beverly was convinced it was because that's where daddy was. They'd started with wine and moved on to Aldeberan whiskey. The next morning both of them had regretted it, but Jack was the one who'd thrown up into Jean-Luc's piece of seventeenth century Umaarian pottery.

No matter how much guilt he carried for being separate from his son, Jack had been as attached to his duty as Jean-Luc was. Things were different back then. If she'd been with Jack, Beverly wouldn't have served on the Stargazer past her second trimester. Long range science vessels were difficult places to raise a child and she would have been transferred. It wasn't the Enterprise and Jack wouldn't have had the same difficult luxury of being able to balance duty and his family on the same ship. The irony of holding her was as poignant as the sympathetic twisting of his own stomach.

He had what Jack couldn't have. Beverly and Jack had been married, Wesley had been a strain so early in the relationship, but they'd grown to love him very much. This child was her decision, not an accident of an unexpected leave like Wesley. Having a child had matured Jack but Jean-Luc wasn't entirely sure what effect his daughter was going to have on himself. Maturity wasn't something he struggled with. Even his unrequited feelings for Beverly were suddenly necessary and appropriate. She loved him with a passion that surprised and frightened him now that it was out in the open. He knew that understanding why she'd become pregnant was a necessary next step, but helping her cope was as far as he'd come.

He still couldn't wrap his mind around the thought that his child was the intangible thing causing her illness.

Startling him from his reverie, Beverly slammed the controls of the sink angrily with the palm of her hand. The dirty water cycled away. Her breathing was still irregular but he was grateful the force of vomiting hadn't restarted the bleeding from her nose. Her hand shook visibly when she lifted it to wipe her mouth. Listening to her cough dragged him back to the present. Spitting out the last of the fluid from her stomach, she groaned and kept her head down.

"If you're going to look at me like that now, you'll never make it through labor," she threatened.

"This is the first time you've thrown up," Jean-Luc reminded her. Setting the bloody towel aside, he wet a clean one for her face.

"By the end of my shift it felt like the internal dampeners had failed," she admitted darkly. "I was going to give Geordi a hard time when Sahad explained I was the only one reeling where I stood." Her hand covered her mouth for a moment before she swallowed and bit her lip. Rubbing her mouth with the back of her hand, she recovered. "Not as romantic as you expected, is it?"

"I didn't-" he began and stopped, correcting himself. He had a vague idea of what pregnancy was. "I thought it would be like Wesley."

Beverly leaned over the sink to rinse her mouth. She spat out the water and shook her head ruefully. "Wesley was bad."

"You were beautiful."

"I wanted to kill Jack," she reminded him. Her weak smile suggested his adoration had touched her and he reminded himself to be patient. Beverly had gambled that he would accept this child. She'd bet on feelings he'd tried to keep hidden for twenty years.

Beverly grabbed the edge of the sink with both hands and dropped her head again. "You-" he could hear her throat constrict and her voice was harsher when she continued, "-Should go back to sleep. Give me another minute and I'll forget how I got into this and want to kill you too."

Calling her bravado, Jean-Luc remained. He kept his hands in contact with her skin as if he could transfer his strength.

"Don't suppose you can order Data to hold the ship still?" she asked. Beverly kept her gaze straight down into the sink. "I used to get butterflies in my stomach before dance recitals. I hated it, but I'd take them back in a moment," Beverly hissed and tried to use her breathing to control her stomach. "The Tarkelian razor beasts I get when I'm pregnant are overkill."

Keeping on hand on her back, he leaned out of the lavatory enough to tap the comm panel. "Picard to Riker."

Will's voice was slightly out of breath but more awake than Jean-Luc expected. "Riker here," he replied.

For the second time in a week, Deanna was in Will's bed. The first time she'd been looking for something familiar and calming. She and Will had managed to behave like friends afterwards and she'd allowed her guard to stay down. They'd flirted and even made out a little after meals on the way to Kesprytt for their new mission. They'd both taken it slow. They knew where they stood with each other and there was no need to rush anything. This time she'd had dinner and then stayed long past dessert.

Lying naked next to him was pleasant and familiar. She felt calm and content. Will hadn't asked anything more of her than her honesty and she was comfortable with that. They'd been talking about nothing, staring lazily up at the slow stars when the comm interupted them.

Picard's words over the commlink were calm but they both knew the captain was covering something.

"Number one, I've decided to give in to your judgment and allow you to lead the Kesprytt away team--" his thought ended abruptly.

Deanna winced sympathetically as they heard running water and then the wet choking sound that had to be someone vomiting. Will's expression was equally gentle.

"Yes, Sir," Will responded and let his gaze fall wickedly on Deanna. "I take it I can choose my own team?"

"If you're looking for suggestions, I would say Counselor Troi," Picard answered.

"Wise choice, Sir," he replied. Will mouthed 'oh seven hundred' threateningly at Deanna. She rolled her eyes and snuggled back into his arms.

"Good luck with the Kes, Picard out."

Deanna rested her head on her hands and looked up at him from his chest. "Was that Beverly in the background?"

Will set his commbadge aside and sighed as he stared up at the ceiling. "Think so," he winced. "Everything feel okay over there?"

Deanna rested her head back on his chest, feeling out to check on the captain and Beverly. Finding them almost immediately, she caught the captain's concern. It glowed silver in her mind like the protective badges of the sheriffs in her father's westerns. Picard's quiet restraint was omnipresent, she felt it like the grand silence of an opera hall hours before the performance. There was something else in the distance, a musical refrain that echoed so softly that Deanna barely heard it.

"The captain is concerned, but all right," she reported to Will. She debated telling him about the music. She wasn't entirely sure he'd understand.

Reaching out to Beverly was more sobering, Deanna was careful not to dig too deep. Nausea and the compounding emotions were unpleasant. Sometimes physical ailments were ignored by her empathic senses, but morning sickness seemed to be something she could pick up on. Beverly's nausea was a commanding force, like a dust storm that stung Deanna's eyes. The guilt stuck like pitch on her fingers, something she couldn't get off, no matter what she tried. The positive side was the music. Even though the howling sandstorm, she could hear the tentative, undefined melody.

She had tears in her eyes when she opened them and Deanna let them run down the side of her nose towards his chest.

"I don't know if I want to have children," she said. He might have been able to feel through her lighthearted tone if he pushed but he accepted it. "She's miserable."

Will's arm tightened around her shoulders. "But?"

"I can hear their feelings for each other," she tried to explain as she sat up. Wiping her eyes, she felt Will's sympathy hum mixed with the deeper tone of reproach. She didn't want to explain it. Even discussing intimacy with him would bring her to subjects she didn't want to touch yet. "I should go."

"You don't have to," he offered with more sincerity than she was prepared for. Slipping naked from his bed, Deanna started picking the parts of her uniform off the floor. She'd purposely worn the underwear that matched the least, a whisper thin pair of shimmering blue Tholian silk panties and a silver bra made out of some new technologically superior fabric from Earth. Neither of them had stayed on long. She wasn't thinking when she went to bed with him, but that might have been what she liked best about the situation.

Will hadn't asked more than her surrender while they made love. She could give him her body and her mind. It was wonderful to be so aware of his presence. She hadn't realized how painful it was to be alone but falling for him again wasn't something she was ready for. Refusing to spend the night was part of that and she thought they both understood.

Pulling her mismatched socks back on, Deanna shook her head. "Someone just gave me the oh-seven-hundred away mission and I need sleep."

He rolled over in bed and caught her arm. Kissing it sweetly just above the wrist, he let her go. "Thank the captain."

"I intend to," she teased. Pulling her uniform jacket on and zipping it up, she freed her hair. Deanna just grabbed her boots instead of putting them on. "Sleep quickly."

Will rolled over with his back to her and hugged his pillow. "You too."
Chapter 7: permutation

Three cases of contained Rigelian flu, one knee replacement, and a twisted elbow from engineering. It was quiet in sickbay and Beverly was grateful for the respite. With Will and Deanna down on the planet, there wasn't even a mission report that required a staff meeting and she was free to spend time on her research. Alyssa called it lurking in the lab, which she was more accurate than she wanted to admit. It was easier to handle her headache in the quiet of the lab. Digging her thumbs into the base of her eyebrows, Beverly temporarily shocked the pain out of her forehead. It became a dizzy, floating sensation instead. Hoping it would remain that way for awhile, she sighed and turned back to the multi-spectrum viral microscope.

Beverly had the quarantine field up to level four, and the lab was bathed in pale blue light. She'd collected a new strain of the Cardassian Urythnocoelial virus during their rendezvous with the medical ship Blackwell. She had faith in the quarantine field. The virus only required level three precautions but she was acutely conscious of the vulnerable life within her. The Urythnocoelial virus was most dangerous to Cardassian children, but she couldn't help feeling a little nervous. Doctor Quaice had used to tease her that a little nervousness was what kept bad doctors from being good and good doctors from killing themselves. Thankfully, they no longer used needles in medical research and the doubly protected pipette she used to deal with the samples was airtight.

After a few minutes, the field in her microscope swam before her eyes and Beverly swore as she pulled her head away. Blinking helped a little, but her head hurt again. Her stomach was off as well, but the twisting was too vague to be nausea. At the moment, her stomach was more manageable than her headache and she pulled back from the counter. Rubbing her temples, she checked the time. Her console read nearly thirteen-thirty. She knew she should eat before her nausea returned. If she was lucky, Jean-Luc might be free for lunch.

Shutting down the viral microscope, she activated the tiny transporter that returned the sample to containment. Placing the pipet into the sterile field, she left her chair. Beverly pushed the pressure points beneath her eyebrows with her thumbs and wondered if it would be wrong to numb her own head for the next five months.

"Computer, run a full bioscan of medlab three. Containment protocol level four. Full viral decontamination."

"Working." The blue light grew brighter, than disappeared. "Medlab three is clear."

Moving to the doorway, she closed her eyes and let the decontamination field run over her body.

"Cleared," the computer chimed. "No biological organisms detected."

Heading for her office, Beverly took the data padd of updates from one of her duty nurses. Reading it as she headed for her desk, she didn't see Deanna's preliminary report on Kesprytt and bit her lip in annoyance. She had an entire report to prepare for Starfleet Medical and Deanna should have been aware of that. Kicking herself for not fighting Jean-Luc more that morning, she sank into her chair.

She should have just gone on the damn mission. She couldn't do anything without Deanna's report and her headache was currently too much for viral research. Tossing the padd angrily on the desk, she rubbed her temples again. The hypospray of bicaridine right into her brain stem was starting to seem like a good idea.

"Alyssa," Beverly called impatiently. After a moment her petite, dark haired nurse peered her head around the corner. "Why don't I have a report about the Kes? Counselor Troi left six hours ago, surely we've heard something."

Alyssa looked down at the floor before she spoke. The pause was maddening enough that Beverly almost snapped at her and reminded her to continue.

"Doctor," Alyssa replied apologetically. "I thought you knew."

"Knew what?" she demanded with a bitter smile. "I've been in my lab all morning. I wouldn't have known in sickbay was on fire."

The other woman's face fell. "Commander Riker and Counselor Troi were involved in some kind of transporter accident. I heard from Andrew over lunch was that they've been kidnapped by the Prytt."

The subtle fluttering disappeared as guilt tightened her stomach into a knot and brought her nausea back. "I didn't-" she began, "-I'll be on the bridge," she recovered.

Alyssa's expression was instantly sympathetic and Beverly berated herself for being so harsh. "Yes, Doctor."

She wanted to beat herself up because she'd known this was coming. Leaning against the wall of the turbolift with one arm, she sighed heavily. She'd been unable to think of anything but Jean-Luc when she'd gotten herself pregnant. She couldn't lose him and she'd been completely caught up in that. After Jack, she'd lost faith in her own ability to cope with another hole in her life. She'd been selfish.

When the lift opened onto the bridge, Deanna and Will's absence from command was palpable. On a normal day, they'd both be on the bridge. Instead, Data sat in the center seat and nodded to her as she arrived, "Doctor, may I be of service?"

Stopping herself from fidgeting with the pockets of her lab coat was impossible. She bit her lip and hoped Data wasn't getting the wrong impression. "The captain?"

"In the ready room," Data offered. "Shall I page him for you?"

"No, thank you, Data." She stopped just outside the door and turned back to the android. "Any word on our away team?"

"A Kes delegation is currently working from on board the Enterprise to help us locate Commander Riker and Counselor Troi," he reported. "Captain Picard is still searching for a way to open diplomatic relations with the Prytt. As of two hours ago, we have had no other information."

She smiled faintly at him before she turned to the ready room door. All the thoughts in her mind stopped whirling chaotically when she focused on Jean-Luc. "I'll be quick Data."

"The length of time of your discourse is not a concern, doctor."

Anything she said would have been far more sarcastic than Data deserved, so she continued into the ready room. As she'd expected, Jean-Luc sat there in silence, hunched over his data terminal. The cup of tea near his hand was half empty and probably cold. Clearing her throat drew his attention when the sound of the doors had not. Beverly pulled her hands out of her lab coat and crossed her arms over her chest.


"Jean-Luc-" she interrupted. Using his name changed the mood from professional to personal and he caught it immediately.

When he looked at her understanding flooded his face. "You're upset."

Pacing in a slow line in front of the door, she felt rage boil up in her throat. Shaking her head, she began, "Will and Deanna-"

"-Are missing," he finished for her as he shut off his computer terminal. "If you and I had taken the mission, we'd be missing."

His bluntness surprised her and she turned to see him setting his tea into the replicator. Rubbing his hands together, he moved towards her. He smiled thinly, leaned against his desk and watched her pace.

"Are you here for lunch?" Jean-Luc asked calmly.

His placid expression only made the fire in her chest worse. "It was supposed to be you and I," she reminded him as she ignored the question. "Not Deanna and Will."

His dry chuckle was deeply sardonic. "Because you and I trapped on an alien world while Commander Riker resolves never to let me go on an away mission again would be better than this?" His tone was also harsher than he'd used with her for some time. "Dealing with what you went through this morning in a Prytt holding cell would definitely be better than worrying about Will and Deanna."

"Don't turn this on me," she snapped back at him, surprised by the ferocity of her temper. "You pulled us off the mission."

"You were up at oh four hundred, vomiting," he retorted. "You've also been having stress headaches and dizzy spells. It was irresponsible of me to allow you to be slated for this mission in the first place and I owe you an apology for that oversight. I'm relieved you're on the Enterprise because there's no telling what could happen down there."

Pulling herself up straight, she glared at him and wished she could melt him into the desk. Pointing out the tall window, she reminded him sharply, "It is my job to be down there on the planet."

"It is not anymore," he thundered. The outburst stopped her thoughts from racing any further. He'd left the desk and now blocked her view of the planet. Taking a deep breath, he straightened his uniform. "You made a conscious choice to undertake a very personal responsibility. I am acutely aware of how vulnerable that has made both of us. Beverly-"

"I am the chief medical officer-"

He caught her wrist and held it gently. "You're also carrying our child."

He was right and that made her lightheaded. Pulling free of him, she sank into the sofa and put her head in her hands. Yelling at him had actually helped her headache, though she still felt off. It wasn't just guilt wrecking havoc on her system. Beverly could blame hormones for most of her symptoms. Her body had been asked to work miracles in a very short time and adapting was more difficult than she realized.

Jean-Luc touched her knee and crouched in front of her. "One thing I've learned as captain is that the hardest part is letting others risk themselves. Throwing oneself into the line of fire is one thing, sitting back and allowing, even ordering someone to go to their death, that's the hard part."

Sighing in frustration, she pulled her head up and grimaced. "Jean-Luc, I know your burden of command speech."

"We got into this without looking," he reminded her. "Somehow as blind as we both were to our feelings, we stumbled into this-this gift. Now we have a responsibility to the well-being of this child."

"I got us into this," she sighed and smiled down weakly at him. "I didn't even ask your permission."

"Well, I do expect to be involved next time," he teased.

She knew he was trying to coax her into smiling, Beverly just couldn't manage it. "I didn't even know they were missing," she admitted wearily. "I've been in the lab all morning."

The sudden wash of weakness was like a downpour putting out a forest fire. Beverly felt even less stable than she had when she'd walked in. Without the anger keeping her headache and guilt away, she felt both emotionally and physically wretched. His hands took hers and cradled them inside his own. The warmth of his touch was comforting but her guilt lodged in her throat like a stone.

"Beverly," he looked up from her hands and smiled warmly. "I am not required to ask your permission to care for you and this child. I need you to understand that my feelings for you are not part of an idle infatuation or sense of duty. I do not worry about you simply because of your physical condition." His grip on her hands tightened and his hazel eyes stared into hers. "Love is not an emotion that I easily bestow. Once given, I cannot deny my feelings nor can I ignore my responsibility, even my need, to protect you."

In the silence that followed, she tried to process the depth of his admission and simply felt overwhelmed. The fog in Beverly's head seemed thick enough to dim the sounds in the room. "I never asked you to love me," she whispered.

He reached up and tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear. Jan-Luc would never allow himself the gesture anywhere other than behind a closed door. The intimacy of it was enough to make her eyes sting. Beverly felt the strange twisting of her stomach again and wondered if it was a misplaced emotional response.

"There are some moments that require no invitation," he responded. Reaching up and holding his hand against her cheek, Jean-Luc smiled.

"Well then," he returned to his feet and flicked his eyes to the replicator. "Did you come up here just to verbally eviscerate me or is it safe to assume you have time for lunch?"

"I'm not sure how much faith I have in the author of this map," Deanna teased. She pulled herself up to the one of the ledges and took the chance to shake soreness out of her fingers.

"Through the fire swamp and up the cliff face?" Will said. It sounded like he was smiling and Deanna could feel his dark humor. His face was buried in the rock and she couldn't see it. His thoughts were calm, centered on the next hold and the next footrest. In a way, it was actually easier to climb as she shared his thoughts. Together they possessed a higher level of concentration than either of them alone.

"I think we're a pretty good match," he agreed with her train of thought. Will paused with one hand off the wall as he looked for the next hold. "I can almost feel the scrape on your leg and the way your hair is hot and sticking to the back of your neck."

Chuckling as she pulled her hair tighter into the knot she'd twisted it into, she teased him back. "Why do you still have the beard if it itches so much?"

"Because I look like an ensign without it," he called down to her. Will's annoyance that his boots were less flexible than proper climbing shoes appeared in her head along with the unrelated memory of being Ensign Babyface.

Reaching up to continue the climb, Deanna kept her mind on the rocks and felt Will's concentration add to her own. The ache in his fingers was the same. The grit in his mouth was identical and they were both thirsty. Will was running through a piece of jazz to distract himself. When she reached the top, Deanna realized she was humming with him.

"I don't even know this," she remarked with a shake of her head.

Will brushed dirt from his uniform and shrugged. "'Mack the Knife', Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald," he explained as he pointed to the tricorder. "What's next?"

"We head down this slope, and follow this red squiggle until it hits the green line in the black dot--"

He laughed and shared the amusement she was hiding behind her overly serious expression. He did want to take the tricorder, but he was too polite to say so.

"About eighteen kilometers," she answered more seriously. Will began another song in his head and they walked side by side in silence. His dedication to the tune and tempo was enough that he could have been playing a recording in her mind.

"You're better than marching music," she observed after he started into the next tune.

"Keeps me busy," he said aloud. He wondered if they even needed to bother speaking and Deanna mused that hearing each other's voices was comforting.

"You're right," Will agreed with a ruefully shake of his head. "What do you think these things were designed to do? That guard said something about our psi wave patterns."

Thinking that telepathic technology was rarely accurate, Deanna watched him smile in response. "I believe they were trying to use these as some kind of mapping tool. A way to pick specific thoughts out of our minds."

"And since you and I are already connected?" He asked.

Will already had an answer in his head and she agreed with his train of thought. Their bond, coupled with her mental abilities had obviously strengthened and bent the implants in a direction their makers hadn't intended. The commander part of his mind took that connection and realized it could be a valuable tool to keep them both safe. It might even work tactically if necessary. She noted that his mind hadn't always been that organized.

Will's thoughts retorted that she hadn't always been that analytical and Deanna chuckled as they walked side by side.

Beverly still drank coffee out of habit. Jean-Luc knew she was too responsible to allow herself to do anything to harm the baby. Even though the replicators couldn't pull the caffeine out and produce a cup that tasted right, she still drank coffee. He could see Beverly swirl the metal mug of dark liquid and tapped at her report. The Kes had transmitted up some data, most of it rudimentary, but it was enough to start her report for Starfleet Medical. She expected it to take most of the day to sift through it all.

He crossed his arms over his chest and stood near the door to sickbay. He'd been on his way up from the guest quarters they had allowed the Kes Ambassador to use, and he'd been compelled to stop. Jean-Luc didn't need to break her concentration and speak with her. He had needed to see her, if only to help him think.

He'd confessed over lunch that he was starting to doubt the Kes were ready for Federation membership. He would save his pronouncement until he knew more, but he trusted his instincts. Paranoid, overly cautious, suspicious races didn't do well when they were asked to interact with so many others. Ambassador Mauric insisted that all Will and Deanna needed to do was follow the map and meet his spies, then they'd sneak through the border and be safe. Jean-Luc didn't trust him or his plan.

Mulling over it in the ready room would let him put his thoughts in final order. His stop in sickbay was personal, a few moments where he would allow his mind to rest on something other than duty.

In her office, Beverly had stopped writing her report and now had her head buried in her hands. Her fingers dug into her scalp and he realized the headaches weren't just an end of the shift problem, as she'd been trying to convince him. He'd stared at a computer screen long enough to give himself a few headaches, but for her it was only an hour after lunch.

Shaking herself out of it and bringing her eyes back to her work, Beverly turned in her chair and reached for a data padd. Somehow she managed to dislodge the entire stack on the shelf behind her desk and several of them clattered to the floor. When they hit, they danced along the carpet. Hearing her curse, he winced sympathetically from across sickbay as the some of the padds slipped out of reach.

Beverly favored her left hip as she crossed her office and retrieved the padd she wanted. It had landed beneath a piece of medical equipment. She paused to knead her fingers into the obviously sore joint and he wondered how he'd missed that behavior and the slight frown that accompanied it.

It was possible that it was a difficult day or that when she'd slept her hip had been pressed oddly against the bed. He knew she hadn't slept well. When they'd finally made it back to bed after her episode of nausea, she'd slept curled up in a ball at his side. Jean-Luc had enough trouble going to sleep before he'd known she was ill. After she'd been sick, he had become acutely sensitive. Every sound in their quarters dragged him back from sleep and each time she moved, he woke for a few seconds just to make sure she was all right. Listening for a comm summoning him awake was one thing; sleeping next to someone who might need him was something else. Even if it was the middle of the night, he was uncomfortable letting her be ill alone. Jean-Luc was unaccustomed to that type of responsibility.

It wasn't just sharing the space in his bed and her sleeping patterns to which Jean-Luc had to adapt. His books moved when he wasn't home. The shelves where he had kept some of his art were places where she needed to keep her plants and everything in their quarters shifted. He'd had her as a constant breakfast companion, but now they shared dinner and lunch when they could fit it in to their schedules. Beverly's socks ended up on the floor and forgotten cups of tea plagued both of them. The time where he'd known exactly where all of his things were in his quarters had ended abruptly when she'd arrived.

Someone cleared her throat behind him and he turned, burying surprise on his face.

"Can I help you, sir?" Nurse Ogawa asked politely. "Doctor Crusher isn't busy if you need a moment of her time."

Tugging his jacket down sharply, he attempted not to let his smile appear too foolish. He didn't want to admit he'd already gotten what he needed. Waiting made him uneasy and knowing Will and Deanna were in danger made it fairly impossible to sit on the bridge. Touring the ship served the dual purpose of easing his mind and reminding the crew of his faith in them. His stop in sickbay had been more for his peace of mind than anything else. Jean-Luc was almost relieved that seeing her was all he needed to put his mind at rest.

"Thank you Ensign," he replied politely. "I'm quite well, thank you."

Escaping through the sickbay doors was an ungainly exit, but it got him out of sickbay before he was caught. Jean-Luc spent a moment filing the tightening of Beverly's eyebrows and the frown that accompanied her discomfort into his thoughts. He knew how to read most of her facial expression from years of friendship. The smaller nuances that came from being lovers were adding to what he understood of her and he had time to develop those senses. Understanding her pregnancy was more time-sensitive, he only had a few months to define his role.

Jean-Luc sighed and scratched the back of his head as the turbolift brought him back up to the bridge. The mission came first and by the time the turbolift opened, the Kes, the Prytt and his missing officers were all that was on his mind.

Deanna closed her as she walked and forcibly steered his mind away from food the only way she knew how. Thinking vividly of the way it felt when he licked inner thigh was enough to make him stop walking.

"Not fair," he complained. Will's eyes twinkled and he shook his head as he caught up with her.

They'd discovered immediately after getting out of the caves that being more than a meter apart made them both violently nauseated. It was easy enough to walk together. Their difficulties came from sharing their thoughts. Too many of their random thoughts amplified and played off each other. When he was thirsty, she was thirsty. When he was hungry the only way she'd found to take both of their minds off of food was to think about making love.

She mused that it was better to be thinking about sexual satisfaction than food. The tricorder had been unable to find anything they could eat but they'd be able to make love. Deanna had more faith in that then their rescue.

Will found that dark thought amusing. "You're much more bitter than you let on," he taunted her as they wandered down the sunlit slope. "The captain will find us."

Deanna nodded and tried to brighten her thoughts.

Sensing the change, he paused and touched her shoulder. "You don't have to cheer up for me. I can handle a little bitter."

"You're right," she agreed. Deanna smiled at him and continued trying to follow the map. It wound through muddled topographical lines. When Will looked at it, he was as confused as she was, so they made the best of it. Being together was being lost alone and both of them depended on each others presence to keep up their spirits. Will thought it was pleasant. He felt it was a renewal for them and the first step on a journey that would take them home to each other. His thoughts were as bright and warm as the sun on their faces.

She drew no comfort from his cheer. Burying her thoughts deep, Deanna barely acknowledged them herself. As the afternoon wore on the implant grew more attuned to her, she started to get flashes of Will's hopes and dreams.

In his waking daydreams, Will was standing on the bridge of the Enterprise, wearing the fourth pip of a Starfleet captain. He saw himself breaking in his own first officer and molding his own crew. This vision had been with him a long time. It was as much a part of him as his dread of "Nightbird" and his favorite blue shirt. However, he'd been toying with his vision. Changing the ship and altering the players who stood with him, Will's had shifted his priorities.

Deanna let her own thoughts drift to the captain and Beverly. She knew baiting him with her mind would be easier than drawing him out with words. As a counselor, it was wrong to manipulate him with her thoughts. As his friend, it was questionably ethical. As his lover, she needed to know.

Remembering the strength of his sympathy, Deanna thought about being back in the runabout. When he'd told her Beverly was pregnant back on the Mendel, Will had dredged up emotions that she hadn't felt in him before. Children had been something he kept in the back of his mind. They were pleasant enough, but he wasn't driven to make them a priority. Having a family was something Will had been able to live without. Other than Worf, all of his close friends were single and childless. Worf had never intended to have a family but he and Alexander had learned to find balance.

Though well adjusted, Alexander was just one more child who had lost a parent. None of her inner circle of friends on the Enterprise had both parents living. Most didn't even have one, and no matter what Will might think, it felt irresponsible to bring an innocent in to the world just to have them face that kind of terrible loss. Deanna knew what is was to be the last hope for her mother.

She was the last living Troi in a proud line of women reaching back centuries. If she had no children, the line would move to a cousin. Her mother would fuss, perhaps even take a second daughter in the eyes of succession. Lwaxana could even still have another child. Betazoid women remained fertile much longer than human women. She could even tag Beverly's daughter as the next holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx.

Trying to picture the captain going through the ceremony of joining, Deanna realized she'd slipped above the surface. Her thoughts had broken through what little remained of her privacy.

Will's polite confusion floated into her mind.

"Sorry," she responded. "I keep thinking-"

"-About the captain," Will finished.

Deanna felt Will's thoughts join hers in softer hues. Thinking about the captain's recent emotional caste sent her into a warmer, more vulnerable place. Letting Will pull that sense of color out of her mind, Deanna felt him redefine it as music. What she experienced as washes of pink and orange, Will heard as slow piano music.

"It's something we didn't see," Will reminded her. "They've known each other a very long time. They've always been close. I think you were the one who asked me what I'd do if it were you and I-"

"-It wouldn't be you and I," she jumped on him. She'd give her life, without hesitation, for Will. What Beverly had done was irrational, outside of her realm of understanding and not something Deanna would consider. Having a child she'd have to raise on her own in a misguided attempt to save him wasn't a possibility. The force of her thought surprised him and they both stopped walking.

His confusion seeped through her like cold fog.

"You can't know what it feels like," she tried to explain. Will's thoughts were still vague and she shook her head.

Will scratched the back of his neck and fingered the implant thoughtfully. "Then show me," he suggested.


"These implants, they're some kind of projectors," he put his thoughts together as he spoke. "Just think about it. Take everything you're afraid of and send it to me. It doesn't have to make sense. I think I'll be able to sort it out."

Shaking her head again, Deanna started to walk down the path. She didn't bother hiding her doubt. The stony ground rattled under her feet as loose rocks rolled down the hill.

Will caught her arm and stopped her. "Hey--"

"You won't understand."

His smile and the rush of confidence that followed across the link reminded her of the young Will Riker.

Sighing heavily, Deanna stopped walking and tried to concentrate. Her abilities were usually limited to receiving. Sending a full emotional picture was outside of her usual talents and Deanna focused before she attempted sending anything. Sharing words back and forth with her mother and other telepaths was as simple as speaking. Sending to Will took slightly more effort, but the implant made Will's mind seem like an extension of her own. She didn't intend the first thought to be fear. Deanna had been trying to suppress it but it floated over to him as if drawn by a magnet. Following on that trail, her sense of betrayal rose like a wreck from the floor of her soul. Deanna's frustration stirred the dark water and dredged thoughts that had no connection up with it.

She'd tried to convince herself that she was comfortable with Will knowing she was afraid. She'd tried to explain it to him. Will even thought he understood. Neither of them was prepared the emotion clinging the the wreck like dead seaweed. Deanna's disgust with herself had a almost palpable scent to it. She hadn't noticed it until she tried to share it with him. As if it had soaked in seawater too long, the clinging emotion reeked of being forgotten.

Neither of them could break the connection, so the feeling hung suspended between them. Deanna felt like she'd covered them both in brackish water. Will started walking again, letting her thoughts sort into his mind. His acceptance was a sharp contrast to the dark sea that was her own mind. Will's thoughts were quiet, pleasant, like a field of trees covered in snow.

He had a clarity in his mind that she lacked. Her own nudging stab of jealousy made him smile as he caught her arm.

"You hate the idea of being pregnant," Will found immediately. Pausing, he sorted through her thoughts like they were wet debris of an ancient lost vessel. Finding a fragment he recognized, he began looking for answers. "Hey, Ian wasn't your fault," he reminded her. Will's concern felt as bright as sun glinting off snow.

The dark water in her mind retreated a little. Deanna knew instinctively there were rocks beneath the surface, emotions of which she was only slightly aware, and she needed them. Her metaconscious intimidated her slightly but she knew it was the stronger part of her.

"What happened to you was like being raped-" he continued.

Wondering why he'd gotten that out the mess of tangled emotion in Deanna's mind, she felt his thoughts and only found caring and concern. Frustrated, she pulled away from him and kept them following the map.

"It wasn't rape."

"He certainly didn't ask your permission," Will argued. She kept the pace brisk and he thought they were running away from something.

Deanna kept walking and he heard her thought before she voiced it.

"It was pleasant?" he asked, searching for words. "You enjoyed his conception."

Will was with her mind as she tried to come up with a more coherent answer. Dragging up the memory of how she'd felt when she'd woken the night Ian conceived himself, Deanna felt him empathize. He understood from his own varied sexual experiences that sensations didn't always rationalize. He comprehended better that she'd expected.

"That was never what bothered you," he realized.

Speaking aloud helped him concentrate, she noticed. Deanna was starting to lose track of what was thought and what was speech but it didn't matter. With the amplifier Will was nearly a match for the raw power of a Betazoid, but he had none of the control. What her mother could have pulled easily from her mind, he had stumbled on by accident.

"You would have been fine if he- Ian- the being had just been curious about you. Sex- or whatever it was, that was fine. You're at peace with that," he stopped, grinning. "Hey, I would be too if it felt like that--" he cut off, smiling. Will's amusement and arousal floated across the link like a warm rush of air. "You woke up pregnant," he kept speaking and the words seemed to leap from her head into his mouth. "You felt violated by that. Giving birth to him, raising him, all of that was forced on to you. Deanna-"

She didn't want to listen but Will was too far into her mind. Her barriers were stripped of their efficacy, Will pass through them like nothing was there. What little privacy she'd had left was fading as he grew more accustomed to the process.

"-Deanna, no one could blame you for not being comfortable with that," his voice slipped into her head. "You had thirty-six hours to deal with being a mother and two days to become a parent."

Sharing her disagreement, Deanna shut her eyes and looked for the thought she'd tried to keep buried beneath the water. Her mind felt murky. The water was mired with the blame she still carried. He hadn't found the thought she hated herself for. She had to guide him to it, as if she was moving his hands for him through the water. She knew sharing it with him would make him understand.

Her memory of relief coursed through them both. It had been so much easier when Ian had died. She had cried and mourned him, then her life returned to normal. She hadn't been expected to keep the responsibility of him. Ian had gone as he had come. Old pain still echoed through her, like lightning over the sea, but five years ago she'd been relieved. Ian's death had released her, absolved her of her feelings and let her return to her life.

Will's thoughts were confused. Regret that he hadn't seen her feelings mixed with his desire to understand.

Letting the dark little thought go, Deanna felt like she'd released something wicked that had been long tethered to the bottom of her soul. Having children was asking for the loss and pain that came with them. Single parenthood, miscarriage, drowning, and eight-year-old boys who believed their suicides would save hundreds of lives all rushed through her mind. Her mother had been strong and independent before she married. Lwaxana had known fear existed but it wasn't until Kestra's death that the darkness came to live within her.

Showing Will that darkness, Deanna reminded him of the incredible guilt that had nearly killed her mother. Navigating his way through the waves, Will steered through storm in her mind. He'd seen something else and a glimmer of thought tantalized them both from beneath the surface. He found it first and dragged it out of the water. Mentally brushing it off, Will brought it to the light.

Neither of them was prepared for the sudden rush of jealousy and misplaced hurt. Will's thoughts stabilized faster. She could feel him solidify. He touched her shoulder and his large hand dragged her back to reality.

"It doesn't have to be like that," he insisted earnestly. "We all lose people we care about. People still have children because it makes them happy."

"Oh yes," Deanna retorted. She shook off his hand and started walking again. If they kept stopping, they'd never reach their rendezvous. "Having a baby is what makes people happy. It made my mother happy. It makes the captain happy. It makes Beverly happy--"

Will stopped walking a pace behind her and grabbed both of her shoulders. He steered her over to a group of scrubby trees and halted them. He stared at her. His blue eyes were gentle but Deanna could feel his demand for clarification in her mind. "You're angry with her?"

"Of course I'm angry with her!" Finally admitting it was like switching the gravity back to normal after spending weeks with it far too high. Deanna felt her arms go rigid. She'd helped Beverly work through her guilt, she'd been supportive with the captain and all of it was professionally fine. They were her friends and her colleagues and she cared for them both but part of her still raged. It was illogical and she'd put it out of her mind until Will had dragged it up.

"Ian has to kill himself because the ship's in danger, but Beverly can twist the same procedure and absolutely everything is fine?" Her chest ached and angry tears had invaded her eyes without her noticing. They ran hot down her cheeks as her breathing lost rhythm.

"It doesn't matter that you didn't want him," Will voiced her thought for her. "It's all right. You're still allowed to be angry. It's an unfair situation."

She skipped over his explanation and kept talking. The words came with her thoughts and Will winced as her anger slammed into him. "My mother berates me for not getting married and having a child when those two things didn't actually make her happy. They made her miserable. Losing my father and Kestra ripped her apart."

"Ian didn't do that to you," he realized as the thought sang between them like lightning. "When Ian died, you were relieved. Hurt, abandoned but relieved that you didn't need to take care of him anymore. He gave you your life back." He pulled her in and hugged her. She could smell the sweat and dirt on his uniform but she appreciated the safety he represented. "Deanna, it's all right. You are entitled to feel whatever you feel. Your relationship with your mother changed when the people around you died and it's horrible. It was like that with my father. Your mother got overprotective, my father got cold. Life doesn't turn out the way we plan."

His optimism was too saccharine and Deanna couldn't share it. It passed through her mind without a real effect. Will thought she would eventually come around to his view of the universe but she couldn't help disagreeing. The universe was dark and harsh. Bringing a child into it was a foolish kind of self-indulgence, Deanna had no intention of sharing that delusion.

He felt her argument and put it aside. Will was content to hold her until her tears stopped. He was comfortable trying to balance being her friend and lover. She needed an emotional port in the storm and Will was content to be used as such. He thought there might be something deeper, but she had a hard time agreeing.

Her imzadi's thoughts entwined deeper into her own and she began to realize that their paths might be more separate than she had ever believed. He wanted children. Deanna could feel that in his head. It was like noticing a brilliant blue flower she'd overlooked in the green all around it. Will's hopes for the future had changed. The Captain Riker fantasy had started to include a wife and children. Deanna had no idea how he intended to bring it about, however it was starting to solidify in his head. The next time he was offered a command, he would take it. Will was ready to move on.

He kissed her forehead and mistook the reason for her calm. Years of experience with her thoughts had given her great emotional control and his telepathy was new enough to him that she could still hide some of her thoughts. Will would always be dear to her heart but for the first time in years, she began to doubt if he would ever occupy it fully again.

Beverly was certain she'd just replicated her tea, but when she lifted the cup it was cold. Pulling his short blue robe tighter around her shoulders, she settled deeper into her chair. Her legs were folded beneath her and her boots were in a heap by the door. She'd had an idea when she'd walked in and she had gone straight to the computer. It hadn't helped. Her head ached and her mind had wandered.

Trying to force her mind to behave, she tapped the stylus on the computer display of the protein coat. The Urythnocoelial virus curled around itself on the screen, like a spring wound tightly into a a larger donut shape. She'd been able to get it to replicate well in a standard growth medium. The little spikes, clearly visible at normal resolution on a sub-electron scanning microscope, were the visible evidence of the mutation that had stumped the Blackwell. Beverly had the time and the resources because her position on the Enterprise meant she had one of the best labs in the fleet.

Keeping busy was also necessary because it prevented her from feeling her guilt. She couldn't do anything to help Will and Deanna until they were rescued and it wore into her.

Understanding the Urythnocoelial virus mutation enough to prevent an outbreak was her first priority. Starfleet Medical would certainly come up with a cure, but professional pride suggested she should be able to do it first. The Enterprise's medical labs were more than prepared to produce a vaccine, she berated herself. It was her chief medical officer that wasn't functioning up to specifications. The virus was a reasonably simple torovirus with minor protein variations. It should have been easy to decode.

Setting down her cold tea, she wracked her brain for the answer that would counteract the mutation. The glass rattled slightly against the surface of the desk as she tapped her fingers. Beverly shoved her tea on the far corner of his desk where she couldn't hit it with an elbow. Somehow under the influence of this baby, everything that wasn't tied down or part of the ship was in danger of being knocked over.

Tea on his books would not be acceptable to either of them. Apologizing would damage her emotional control to the point where she either snapped or sobbed and neither of those seemed like a good way to end the night. Sighing at the cold cup of dark liquid, Beverly wondered if she should get up and put it away into the replicator.

Lowering her head to her chest, she acknowledged both her headache and the pain in her neck. The vagueness of the pain behind her forehead suggested it was just another hormonal thing. At least her stomach had quieted enough that she was reasonably certain she was hungry. Their late dinner would still need to be something simple, but she was looking forward to him returning so she could eat.

Jean-Luc was probably still trapped in a pointless, paranoid discussion with Ambassador Mauric or trying to track down whoever was in charge of the Prytt. Beverly checked the chronometer again and decided to give him until twenty-two hundred before she ate without him.

Tapping her fingers along the desk, her thoughts coalesced and she suddenly realized how simple it was. The protein coat was folded in three places along the dorsal axis. The original virus only had two folds. That was it, the beginning of the mutation that had changed the virus. Leaning down to peer closer at the screen, Beverly didn't even realize she was biting her lip until the sting cut into her thoughts.

The spikes were part of the airborne, zooanotic mutation that Captain R'Pau had been so concerned about. The extra fold had started the virus along the path towards addition mutation and once it started--

"What are you?" she asked the virus on her screen.

Her stomach twitched in response and it suddenly hit her that she hadn't been talking to the baby. Beverly hadn't let herself talk to the fetus yet. She'd talked to Wesley. Sometimes while she'd been studying, he'd been subjected to a running commentary on her anatomy lessons. This time she hadn't said a word. Being pregnant with Wesley had introduced new sensations, some of them almost painful. Why did she expect this time to be different? Why did every unexplained firing of a nerve make her nervous?

Beverly didn't think she was nauseated again, but the fluttering that appeared at random intervals was actively distracting. Now that she no longer had her work to occupy her she felt worse. She knew the nerves surrounding her internal organs were few and indistinct. She couldn't expect to instantly know what was happening to her. Intellectually, she understood that the reordering of her internal organs would be uncomfortable. On a deeper level, she was terrified.

She'd cheated fate and used an untried, unproven, potentially deadly method to bring this baby into being. It was going to die. Each time she wasn't nauseated, Beverly worried she was miscarrying. Whenever she felt sick, she hated herself for being foolish enough to cause the pregnancy in the first place. She'd backed herself into a corner and let herself get so worked up she'd missed what mattered.

The fetus was moving. Her body wasn't getting ready to let the tissue slough and give up the forced pregnancy. Even though she had not acknowledged the baby's presence as a living thing. It-she- Beverly corrected herself, was viscerally real.

"Congratulations," his voice startled her out of her work and Beverly jolted up from the computer screen.

Staring at him in shock, Beverly blinked. "What?"

"You're making your victory face," he explained as he took her tea from the edge of the desk and brought it to the replicator. As it vanished, he slipped between her and the desk and kissed her forehead.

The warmth of his lips eased her headache momentarily. Reaching up for his shoulder, she held him there for a moment. Closing her eyes, she sighed and concentrated on the feel of his muscles through his uniform. "Will and Deanna?"

"On the lam in the Prytt countryside," he answered gently. "They're all right. They should meet Ambassador Mauric's contact in the morning and be home before supper."

Opening her eyes immediately would have been premature and given away that they were damp. Beverly smiled up at him as he kissed her forehead again. "Missed you," she sighed and squeezed her eyes dry before she opened them.

Sliding up to sit on his desk, he moved her padds of data to a neat pile. "Cardassian epidemiological histories? Hardly light reading. Is this what you've been working on?" he let that question float as he studied her face thoughtfully. "You're a bit peaked."

Smiling instantly in response only made him shake his head, even though the behavior was intended to soothe him. "You mean, how's my stomach?"

Her feet started to go numb from the way she was sitting and Beverly shifted positions. She couldn't pull her knees flat against her stomach the way she used to, but her hips were flexible enough to allow her to get comfortable for the time being. She didn't know how to tell him she could feel the baby. A different kind of fear overtook her. She wondered how the reality of their baby being a mobile creature instead of a vague illness would change his feelings.

Jean-Luc rested his forehead against hers. His thumb ran along her jawline, stopping to caress the corner of her mouth. "Your lips are pale," he noticed and took that as an answer to his question. "Plomeek soup and toast tonight then?"

"It's a good thing you enjoy bland food," Beverly quipped. She kissed the pad of his thumb before he removed his hand from her face.

Chuckling as he left the desk, he headed for the replicator for dinner. Jean-Luc asked over his shoulder, "Luckily for both of us, Sarek only added his predilection for Vulcan cuisine to my own. Why are you studying Cardassian viruses?"

Keeping his robe around her shoulders even though the cabin was pleasantly warm, Beverly tapped her thoughts into her notes before she could forget. "Remember our rendezvous with the Blackwell?"

"You mentioned you had a project," he recalled as he started to set the table. "You know you don't need to wait for me every night for dinner."

"If I eat without you I have to make it," she replied. "If I wait for you, it appears in front of me." Sighing as she stretched out of her chair, Beverly heard the crackling of her knees. The soreness that accompanied the motion of standing made her wish she could eat at the desk. Straightening up, she worked the kink out of her spine. Her headache made her a little light headed. Walking to the sofa, she watched him arrange the plates and cutlery on their table. She sank into the softness of the sofa and curled up with her thoughts.

Why had it been so hard to acknowledge the baby's development? She'd seen the scans. She'd dutifully reminded herself that motion would be the next symptom. Beverly wondered if she'd gotten behind, confused by the appearance of nausea and the trouble maintaining stable blood pressure. There were so many big things to worry about. She had used to be so good at reading her body and suddenly none of it made sense.

Jean-Luc touching her shoulder startled her enough that she jumped.


"Sorry," she murmured and accepted his hand. "What were you saying?"

"I asked if you had made any headway on the protein jacket-"

"-Coat," she corrected as he pulled out her chair at the table. Now that they lived together, they often sat at the same corner instead of at opposite sides of the table. They had a little less space but both of them enjoyed the extra intimacy. Too often physical contact had to be suspended in favor of decorum; in their quarters they needed the reprieve.

"The protein coat of the Urythnoecolial Virus," he repeated, proving smugly how much attention he had paid to her. "You looked like you had solved a puzzle."

"I did?" she asked and wondered what had him so convinced. Her stomach twisted, then the sensation faded. Beverly knew she had to tell him but the words were evasive. "I did," she repeated more forcefully. "It's the tertiary dorsal folding."

Jean-Luc set dry toast and the steaming Vulcan soup in front of her. "Are you all right?"

"I'm not nauseated," she promised him with a reassuring hand on his wrist. "I just feel a little odd."

He caressed the back of her hand and continued, "Tired? Lightheaded?"

Smiling at the switch in their usual roles, she took a piece of toast and nibbled the corner of the crunchy bread. "Always," Beverly retorted with a grimace. "Actually I--" she let it drift and shook her head. "I'm sorry."

Jean-Luc rubbed her hand with his thumb and took her confusion as a cue to change the subject. "I've been reading a rather useful collection of medical texts forwarded to me with a note of congratulations by Chief O'Brien, " he related. Calmly taking another tactic, his voice took her mind off the flutter in her stomach. The pang that insisted she tell him what was happening assaulted her again.

"I put them together when Keiko was pregnant," she remembered, touched that the chief had thought to send them to his former captain. Beverly couldn't think of a reason not to tell Jean-Luc what was happening. He would guess soon enough and it was good news. So far, all of it had been.

Alyssa had run another amniotic scan before Beverly had even left sickbay. Aside from this baby becoming the most scanned since the invention of the tricorder, everything was fine. Her DNA had a few human flaws, but was perfectly sound. There were no temporal anomalies and the developing fetus was healthy. Beverly's own cardiovascular system was performing adequately. Her endothelial cells had risen to meet the challenge she'd forced on them. Her blood pressure was still alternating between the borders of hypo- and hypertensive but that was more uncomfortable than problematic. Headaches, soreness and nausea were all acceptable. Carrying the symptoms like they were part of her uniform, she felt she deserved all of them for forcing this baby into being.

She couldn't be frustrated with Jack, like she had been when she'd been pregnant with Wesley. She couldn't fault Jean-Luc. He'd adapted better to the change than she had. She'd taken his solitary life and replaced it. When he came home at night, he had an evolving mess in his quarters and the interrupted sleep that came from dealing with her nausea. Staring morosely at her dinner, she wondered if she could convince him to let her deal with her symptoms alone.

Looking up as she remembered he was still speaking, she felt another surge of guilt.

"-Have you?" he finished a question she'd missed entirely.

Shaking her head, she met his gaze apologetically. "Have I what? I'm sorry, Jean-Luc, I wasn't listening." Taking a bite of toast, she waited for him to determine how to bring her back into the conversation. He blew across his soup, thinking as he stirred. She watched his expression grow quietly awed.

"Were you waiting to tell me you could feel her moving?" Jean-Luc asked. He sounded disappointed and it was all she could do to process that and what he was saying at the same time. "Beverly?"

Setting her toast down quickly, she stared at him. "I'm sorry," she repeated foolishly. "I was somewhere else. What are you talking about?"

"You're distracted," the accusation was gentle.

"I was just thinking," she excused. "Shouldn't let my mind wander so much."

He ate his dinner thoughtfully as he watched her pick at her own. "Would you like company?"

She could feel his eyes on her. If she held back any longer, he'd become concerned again and that was the last thing she wanted. "I'm all right."

"Good," he replied. Dipping the crust of his toast into his soup, he waited for her to continue. The expression on Jean-Luc's face was patient and gentle. The one to which she couldn't put up any resistance and when her eyes started to sting. She knew it was hopeless. Not telling him made it nearly unable to look at him. Beverly bit her lip and wished she could skip ahead through the next few minutes.

"I've spent my life pushing the boundaries of medicine to save lives," she began. Giving up on eating for the time being, she focused on his eyes. "I surprised, even scared myself when I managed to create this baby. If I miscarry, if anything else happens, it'll be my fault. I dragged you into this because I was too selfish to live without some part of you. I couldn't lose you. When I lost Jack, I had Wesley and I needed something of you."

Balling up her napkin, she dropped it angrily on the table. "I created all of this and then forced you into it," she snapped at herself. "I couldn't see what I was doing. I loved you. God, Jean-Luc, I was willing to lose this baby if it meant getting you back. I didn't care how long she lived if it got you back on the ship."

Her hand lay forgotten on the cold glass of the table until he lifted it and cradled it in his.

"It's all right," he promised. None of his captain's confidence was in his voice. His tone was gentle and it carried more weight coming from the heart of her lover. "I can't imagine how disconcerting it must to feel something like that."

"Jean-Luc, when I felt her move I thought something was wrong," she replied with a shudder. Pulling her hand away would have been too isolating and she clung to his warm fingers. "I didn't let myself think it was normal. I've been ignoring it. I didn't even consider-- Dammit, I knew when Wesley started moving. I can tell you the exact moment and precisely what I was doing." She hadn't realized how damp her eyes had gotten. Then the stinging in her nose flared up and reminded her how close she was to tears. "I didn't want to let myself wait for it. It might never have happened--"

"Everything is fine."

"I know that," she said, squeezing his hand. "I know that."

"Beverly, it's all right," Jean-Luc insisted. He turned in his chair to face her directly and his other hand reached for her chin. "In every way, you are doing the best you can. This pregnancy is different, and you can allow it to be so. Not only because of the circumstances surrounding conception. Your age, our relationship, having me around all the time- all of that is a great deal different than the last time." He paused and grinned. "I was with Jack when you were pregnant with Wesley."

"Much more than I was," she teased him and brought her shoulder up to nudge the hand on her shoulder up towards her cheek.

"We'd stay up late, too late, talking about you and the baby," he related, smiling. The peace on his face was as calming as his voice and both soothed her nerves. "Jack would marvel at how your belly just kept expanding. We'd laugh together and I'd have to remind him that the heart knows no distance to be insurmountable. Present company excluded, Jack was the most intimate relationship of my life."

Pushing her chair back from the table, Beverly circled the corner and climbed into his lap. The chair creaked and he had to change positions to make room for her. Jean-Luc's hands found their way around her waist and she curled up. Her head dropped to his shoulder and it took her a few minutes to find the words.

She sighed and let the weight leave her chest, "I loved him."

"As did I," he agreed. His lips touched her hair. Jean-Luc didn't complain about the fact that he could no longer eat with her in his arms. "Jack was the brother who really understood my heart and took great pleasure in reminding me how important it was to follow it. You, Jack and Wesley were my family. Having one of my own was something I never allowed myself to desire and as a result, never intended to have."

"Jean-Luc, is it just me, or is this happening really fast,"

He chuckled and she could feel the motion of his chest. "We did lose a few months."

Beverly wondered if those months were payment for the years they'd wasted. How long had he had feelings for her? Since she'd returned to the Enterprise? Before that? How much time had she spent burying what she felt? Moving Jean-Luc's hand across her stomach to rest over the pinching, Beverly sighed. It was too soon for him to feel it, but she wanted to connect it to him.

Trying to let go of her underlying fear, she tried to reconcile the fact that she could accept the baby as a person instead of a responsibility. Their daughter was healthy and in a very short time, she'd be here. Jean-Luc was right, in many ways it was easier than Wesley. Her partner was present all of the time, her career was settled and things were different. She'd been more frustrated and less frightened with Wesley. Jack's methods of support had been drastically different. Beverly still wasn't entirely sure how to cope. Having Jean-Luc didn't mean turning her back on the past, she knew needed to learn to see it in a different light.
Chapter 8: fallibility

"Captain's Log, Stardate 47307.6. With the safe recovery of Commander Riker and Counselor Troi from Kesprytt, the Enterprise is proceeding to the Roslin Stellar Cluster to collect data from the Federation science vessel Xhiung Sa. We are also overseeing the transfer of several personnel from Starbase 437 to the Xhiung Sa, which has spent the last two months studying the unusual gravimetric distortion waves produced by that phenomenon."

Finished with his log entry, Jean-Luc Picard sighed and rested his chin in his hands. Ensign Ogawa, who he'd come to believe was an incurable romantic, had graciously allowed him the use of Beverly's office. It was a little strange to be sitting in her chair but his compulsion to be on hand made it easier than waiting in his quarters. His chief medical officer was still in surgery, where she and Doctor Selar were at work removing the psionic device the Prytt had implanted in Counselor Troi.

Commander Riker was sleeping comfortably in recovery. According to Ogawa, who had the watch in sickbay, the surgery to remove the implant from his brain had been relatively simple. The device had been grafted into his brain stem, but Beverly had removed Riker's implant with ease. He would be discharged in the morning and back on duty the following afternoon. Seeing his Number One sleeping calmly in sickbay had been deeply reassuring.

Counselor Troi was faring differently. Ogawa had reported that Beverly had gone in to assist Selar after four hours of the delicate surgery. The two of them had been working in tandem for the last three hours trying to remove the implant and restore normal function to Troi's brain. Advanced humanoid anatomy had not been one of his stronger subjects at the academy; aside from emergency situations, Jean-Luc had very little experience. Ogawa's polite explanation of what Beverly was trying to do was a string of long medical words. Basal nuclei, paracortex and striatum meant nothing to him. However, Ogawa's normally cheerful expression was grave and that was enough to worry him.

The Roslin Stellar Cluster was not interesting enough to divert his attention, and recording the log had been the last thing on a rather short list. Data had the bridge and the Enterprise was performing at near peak efficiency. He knew returning to his quarters would only make him more restless. With the ship in good hands, he could afford the luxury of attending to his family.

Though it had never been discussed, Jean-Luc knew Riker would normally be the one waiting for Troi to emerge from surgery. Considering his evolving friendship with his first officer, he felt his presence in sickbay was doubly appropriate. He'd had the extraordinary good fortune to hold an incredible command crew together. The impending arrival of his daughter and his relationship with Beverly had made the responsibilities to all of his family much more palpable.

The waiting gnawed at him. Calling up 'The Winter's Tale', he began reading the familiar comedy and tried to lose himself in the wording. The complexity of the story and the landscapes it mentioned were quite distracting. Forcing his mind to conform to the intricacies of the verse, he read through to the second act when Beverly finally appeared in the doorway to her office.

Her sigh was so heavy it seemed to hit the floor like dead wood. Taking a step towards him, Beverly grabbed the back of a chair and dropped her head. Her long fingers dug into the back and it took her a moment to recover enough to remove her red surgical hood. Her thick red-gold hair tumbled from the hood and some of the wavy mass clung to the sweat on her forehead.

"I want that damn Cardassian virus back," she groaned, pushing off the chair. The crumpled surgical hood dropped from her fingers to the desk and lay there. Beverly flexed her fingers slowly and then bent the fingers of her right hand back.

Leaving her chair, he took her right hand in both of his and started working the delicate bones and tendons between his fingers.

She hissed when he hit a tender spot near her thumb but nodded that he could continue. "The power to design complicated medical devices should never exist without the responsibility to use them safely," she complained bitterly. "Those implants were never designed to be used on a telepath. Her half-Betazoid brain is highly adaptable and her basal nuclei grew into the implant. We spent the last seven hours peeling nerves off of the metal tendrils that thing wormed into her brain stem."

She took her hand back and dug it into her lower back. Shaking her head, Beverly inhaled sharply as she forced her shoulders back. She tugged at her wrist and then released her hand back into his grip. Her skin felt sticky and he could feel the tendons snap back and forth beneath his fingers.

"I gave her to Selar first," she explained. The furrow in her forehead vanished and he sensed her apology behind the words. "I knew she might be more bonded to the implant but I never expected it would take so much--"

Squeezing her shoulders warmly, Jean-Luc took some of the tension out of her face. Moving his fingers around to her back, he felt the hardness of knotted muscle beneath her skin. He dug his fingers in a little.

"Dammit," she interrupted herself. "We still may need to ask Betazed to send a specialist. We might not know for weeks if there's any brain damage. The paracortex hasn't been studied much by non-Betazoids and I can't honestly say I'm sure that part of her mind has recovered. All the cells are responding but we won't know if Deanna matches her baseline until I see a scan while she's conscious."

Jean-Luc put force and warmth into his voice, "You did your best."

"My best should be good enough to know she's going to fine," she retorted harshly.

Closing her eyes, she let him switch to massaging her left hand. Beverly rolled her neck on her shoulders and took a few moments to collect herself. She sighed again before she spoke and she finally met his gaze. Her voice dropped, "I have to put so much of myself out of my head when I'm in there. Everything physical; my hands, my neck and even the baby moving around have to be out of my mind so I can concentrate. For a few hours, I forgot I was pregnant. Then I walked out of the operating room, everything ached and someone started swimming around beneath my skin."

Touched by her admission, his smile deepened. "How is Counselor Troi?"

Beverly nodded slowly. "She should be fine in a few days. Deanna should sleep for the next twelve hours," she said, hiding a yawn with her hand. "I assume the captain will be agreeable if I file my report in the morning?"

"He may be amenable," Jean-Luc deadpanned. "Though, I hear he's insufferable when it comes to paperwork." He waited for her to smile before he broke his poker face. Being as reassuring as he could, he continued, "I'm sure you and Doctor Selar have the counselor in excellent shape."

"We'll see. It's hard to tell with brain surgery." Her weak smile suggested she was trying to agree with him. Beverly touched his arm and her smile was bright for a moment. "You're going to spoil me if you keep meeting me after work," she teased. "I'll expect special treatment."

Resisting the urge to kiss her, he nodded instead. "I will attempt to remain cognizant of that," he replied with a slight roll of his eyes. "Shall we?"

Beverly wryly took the initiative from him and kissed his cheek. "Thank you," she whispered before she pulled away.

"It's like she's standing in the back of my head," Will explained as he drummed his fingers on the table in front of him. Sitting in his quarters was not traditional for counseling, but he'd been uncomfortable in Deanna's office. The other counselor's office was an option but it was right next to Deanna's. It hadn't felt right to talk about her when the feeling of her was so close.

"Sometimes I feel like she's speaking," he continued. "I guess it's like seeing her lips move but not being able to hear anything. We were so intertwined on the planet. She'd step on a rock and I'd feel like it was my foot."

Across from him, her expression patient yet imperiously still, Doctor Selar nodded once. She thought for a moment, "The implants were designed to project thought patterns. Combined with your pre-existing connection, the force of that sharing would be very strong. Are you still aware of the counselor's presence?"

Will tried to search his mind. It was odd to be talking about his feelings with a Vulcan, but without another Betazoid onboard, Selar was the closest he had to an expert in telepathy. "I can tell you she's asleep," he replied with a shrug. "I don't know if that's because I know she's still in recovery , or if I can actually feel that she's asleep."

"Vulcans can have a sense of their mates' wellbeing. My parents had an especially strong sense of each other and were aware of many things. I believe the Betazoid process you described is similar to a Vulcan mating," Selar agreed calmly. "Do you consider Counselor Troi your mate?"

The renowned Vulcan bluntness amused him and Will chuckled. "I don't know. I care deeply for her. We're capable of great intimacy both mentally and physically. The implants would have been a lot more awkward without it." Pausing to finish the last of the drink in front of him, he shook his head. "Her thoughts actually appeared in my mind. Obviously they weren't mine but when they were there they were as much a part of me as anything I was thinking.

"You are not engaged in a relationship."

"No," he left his chair for the replicator and ordered another synthale. "Well, not in the traditional sense. We-she- didn't think it would be wise while we were on the same ship." Taking it from the replicator, he headed back to her at the table.

Selar raised an eyebrow. "And now?"

Taking a sip of his drink, he wondered how that conversation would go with Deanna after she woke. "I can't shake the idea that maybe we should be," Will shrugged." Suppose that's illogical?"

"Not if it is what you believe is the best outcome," Selar answered. She paused and stared at him as she put her thoughts in order. "Emotions are a powerful driving force. Counselor Troi may require your support."

"Fallout from the implant?" Will wondered. "Did she suffer brain damage as a result of Kesprytt? I thought she was going to be fine." Selar's face was entirely unreadable and he was glad she'd never shown any interest in poker.

"In a manner of speaking," the doctor replied. She inclined her head thoughtfully. "Allow me to say there are events in life that are difficult to face alone."

After pressing her lips against the firm skin of his stomach, Beverly slipped past out of bed on her way to the bathroom. The change in pressure on the bed was gentle, but by the time she returned, Jean-Luc was awake and watching her. Slipping her pajama bottoms off her hips and pulling the tank top off over her head, Beverly was nude by the time she reached the bed. Slowly crawling back in next to him, she traced a hand down his chest and grinned.

"Good morning."

He chuckled and touched her cheek. "Sleep well?"

Nuzzling his chest instead of answering, Beverly made her way down to his stomach and nodded playfully. One of her breasts trailed across his upper thigh. He reached for the back of her neck and ran his hand down beneath her hair. Sighing, she lay down over his chest. Her head rested just above his collarbone. Flattening her breasts against his skin, she remembered how sore they were.

Her fingers found his warm, slowly hardening penis through his shorts and she bit her lip in anticipation. It wouldn't take too much more work to convince him. Lifting his hand from the bed and tucking it around her breast, she kissed his chin. Grabbing his other hand, she placed it beneath her other breast. Easing up his chest, Beverly draped a leg over his. Rubbing herself against his thigh, she saw his eyes widen in amusement.

Then his fingers dug into the soft flesh and he grinned sleepily. "Before breakfast?"

"Yes," she nodded playfully.

Jean-Luc turned his head towards the chronometer.

"We have time," Beverly pouted. She grabbed his chin, turned his face back towards her and trailed her hand down his chest. "No headache, no nausea." She cuddled closer then flicked the tip of her tongue against his neck. "It's been a while since I've been able to say both of those things were simultaneously absent."

He kissed her forehead, lips warm and full of promise. "I'll be right back." Jean-Luc dragged himself out of bed and ducked into the bathroom.

Beverly left the bed and stared at herself thoughtfully in the mirror by the closet. Even from the front, she could see the slight change in her figure. The extra weight was mostly in her breasts as the aching proved. Running her hands down to rest on her stomach, she could definitely see the rise of her uterus over the pubic bone. Palpating the hardness of her uterus through the softer flesh, she reassured herself that the fundal height was normal. She'd already let her uniform out once but Beverly knew she'd have to again. She was resisting the skirted maternity uniforms available to her because her own was more comfortable.

With her eyes on her stomach, she'd missed his approach. Beverly felt the heat of him as Jean-Luc wrapped his arms around her waist. His growing erection touched her butt; she smirked and wriggled her hips. His hands were cool from the water and they slipped up to grab her breasts and weigh them thoughtfully.

"Will they get much bigger?" he asked, bouncing them as she rolled her eyes.

"Only towards the end." Staring down at the tan hands covering her pale skin, she shrugged. His fascination was amusing. Jack's interest had been in her belly and the enhanced curves of her hips more than her breasts. He moved his hands again, this time squeezing down and stimulating both nipples. She hummed faintly and he stopped nuzzling her shoulder.

Moving her hair to kiss her neck, he studied her thoughtfully. "Feeling better?"

"Maybe I've adjusted," she sighed and twisted in his arms. Face to face with him, she rubbed her nose against his and grinned playfully. In her new position his nearly hard penis was against her thigh. Beverly dropped her hand to it and coaxed him with lazy fingers. Glancing to her left, she suggested the wall with her eyes.

Jean-Luc chuckled and responded by dropping his warm, taunting mouth to her breast. He sucked until she gasped and returned to kiss her. "There?"

Beverly nodded slightly and hissed in anticipation. His right hand slipped tantalizingly between her thighs and grabbed the flesh of her left hip . His wrist brushed against her clit. She kissed him harder, dragging him towards the wall. Exploring his mouth, she toyed with the smooth underside of his tongue. His hand traced around to grab her right hip. His other hand took her left thigh and he lifted her left leg up. She tucked it around the firm muscles of his ass. His fingers slipped within her.

His fingers thrust up, making her gasp. Jean-Luc pulled his hand back, reaching up to nudge her clit with his thumb. That brought a whine to her throat. The last few days had been tense and she'd been exhausted. This was long overdue and fingers weren't enough.

"Please," she muttered into his ear. His hand slipped out and the emptiness was replaced with a hot, aching fullness. Jean-Luc's contented sigh made her shiver and the heat ran all the way up her spine. He grabbed her hips firmly and hoisted her up. The cold wall against her back made her shudder again, but as soon as he started to move, it ceased to matter.

Squeezing the muscles of his back, she tried to relax. Being between him and the wall had a remarkable security to it. Her entire body was pressed to his, breasts flat against his chest,legs against his back and the angle was good. When he was deep within her, her clit rubbed against the flesh covering his pubis. The heat started to seep into her head. It should have taken longer, but she'd been so ready when she woke up. There were moments where she swore just listening to him speak was enough.

There was fresh sweat on his shoulders. Her head went back and started to float. Perhaps she was hypotensive, maybe she had just gotten out of practice the last few days, or maybe it was the angle. Heat shuddered through her, quick and subtle. Beverly was almost disappointed. He stopped on an upward thrust, his control letting him stop enough to--

"Okay," she gasped, "I'm okay." Kissing his cheek for emphasis, she convinced him to finish. Slightly more sensitive than she'd been, Beverly could feel him within her. Tilting her hips down, she changed the angle and tightened around him. Clenching her legs just a little harder pulled him in and Beverly felt him stiffen. Riding out his orgasm with her cheek pressed against his, her head was still spinning when her feet hit the floor.

Panting, Jean-Luc leaned against her. Pinning her to the wall kept her standing on shaky legs. Beverly giggled softly and trailed her hand down his spine. Sweat made his skin slick and her fingers moved easily.

"Sorry," she offered. "I guess I didn't need much."

Kissing her chin and then her cheek, he paused. Jean-Luc lifted her face and melted his lips over hers. He tasted like sweat and she nibbled his lip before she released it.

"Might as well get in all the exotic positions while we can?" he teased. His hand caught her breast and his thumb ran over a damp nipple.

"There are some pretty fun ones we can do later," she winked.

Jean-Luc smiled softly in response, then started kissing her again. He was lazy at first, more concerned with intimacy than passion. Sighing across his lips, Beverly leaned into the hand on her breast.

Responding to her, he deepened the kiss and then let his lips roam. Jean-Luc's lips were hot against her chin. His other hand squeezed the upper curve of her butt and she shivered. Her hands danced up to his shoulders and she started kissing him again, earnestly. She was still hot and sticky from his ejaculate, but his fingers were slick against her clit. Beverly moaned and he quirked an eyebrow.

He circled his fingers slowly, making sure it was what she wanted before he continued. She gasped and nodded urgently. Grinning wickedly, he rolled her clit between two strong fingers.

"Now?" he taunted.

Her fingers dug into the hard muscles of his arms. "Dammit- Jean-Luc--" she begged.

He leaned into her, teasing as he rolled his fingers back and forth before settling into a rhythm. His left hand moved to her other breast, and she could feel his head slip down her chest before his mouth landed on her breast. Her hips twitched and one finger moved across her clit, hard and insistent. When she panted, he sped up. The dizzy feeling in the back of her head exploded outward, engulfing her perception. Her thighs nearly gave out and he guided them both down to the floor.

Curled into his sweat-damped skin, she sighed and stared up at him. The carpet stuck to her back but her head felt safe on his lap. One of his hands brushed damp hair off her forehead.

He leaned down and kissed the skin of her forehead he had just exposed. "Better?"

Smiling up at him, she stroked the skin of his arm. "Much," she replied softly. "Wasn't sure how I was going to make it through my shift otherwise."

"You can join me," Guinan offered with a slight bow. "The computer can run two levels simultaneously." Her phaser blasted three yellow dots moving so quickly Deanna hadn't noticed they were there behind the other colors.

"Worf said you were 'quite impressive'," Deanna teased as she stepped into the blue side of the practice ring. "I'm only level eight," she offered with a shrug. "Though, I've been improving."

"I was level eight for years," Guinan replied as she reset her phaser. Her dark unruly hair was back in a brilliant orange headband that matched her tight orange and yellow workout suit. "Of course...the system was a little different back then."

"Don't tell me how long ago it was," Deanna waved off the explanation. She pulled her own hair back into a tight knot and lifted her phaser. "I don't think I want to know."

"Computer, add second player, please set to level eight," Guinan requested. "Good to see you back in the land of the living."

Deanna chuckled darkly and blasted a small blue dot. The computer chirped and recorded her point. On her left, Guinan recorded five hits in a row.

"How's Beverly?" the other woman asked. She nailed another dot of light and kept her tone even.

Deanna missed twice and then shook her head at Guinan. Her anger was irrational and she knew it, but letting herself snap felt so good. "You mean, I've been in sickbay so much I should know?"

"I keep wondering when she'll show," Guinan continued, ignoring Deanna's bristly temper. Deanna could feel the calm Guinan projected like a still lake around her. It was what she'd come for and both of them knew it. "Think it'll mean a lot to the captain when she does."

Deanna set her jaw and hit two blue dots before she missed the last one. "I was unconscious," she corrected. "I haven't seen much."

"She hasn't made it down to Ten Forward for awhile, " Guinan replied lightly. Three chirps and a brighter chime meant Guinan had successfully gotten three more and the computer approved of her shot.

Deanna knew she was being baited. She could feel Guinan's thoughts moving into position like chess pieces. Concentrating on the points of light gave Deanna a home for her anger. "Probably busy," she started. "Running sickbay, digging around in my skull-" she paused and tried to be fair, "I don't think things have been easy for her. The captain pulled Beverly off the Kesprytt mission because she was ill."

"And you went instead," Guinan observed as she calmly tracked a yellow light before blasting it cleanly.

Deanna followed her own blue light but she missed two shots before she finally connected. Her thoughts were just as scattered. "It should have been a routine mission," she argued.

"It wasn't.

"Will was in my head," she sighed. Holding down the button on her phaser a after the target was gone, Deanna wondered if she could burn something out of herself as cleanly. "We talked about my son."

"The one who died," Guinan remembered. Two chirps and the whine of a missed shot. Deanna turned, surprised Guinan had missed at all. The enigmatic bartender shrugged. "Got behind one of yours."

"Couldn't have that," Deanna retorted. She hit one blue dot, then a second, then a third. The power of the weapon sang through her. She so rarely had to fire one that she had nearly forgotten how pleasant it was to have control. Deanna stopped bothering to speak and tracked her targets, over and over until she gave in and just held the trigger of her phaser. The level ended and the lights disappeared. The brilliant orange light lanced out and faded into the black surrounding them. She could feel the weapon hum in her hand. A phaser was simple. A direct line of energy went straight for the target. Energy didn't bend or move, so she could aim straight and true.

Guinan interrupted, "Feels good, doesn't it?"

Releasing the trigger, Deanna dropped her arm. "Will wants to have children."

"Children can be wonderful," the other woman nodded. "Each one of mine taught me something about the universe that I hadn't heard before."

"He wants to have children with me," Deanna elaborated. The lights popped back on with the whine and her arm flew up instinctively. She could see the bright blue just over the stationary red dot and she knew she could--

The computer chirped, "Level complete, Blue Player's level increased to nine. Yellow Player, level seventeen."

"He'll be a good father," Guinan promised. As Deanna watched out of her peripheral vision, Guinan hit two yellow dots moving almost faster than Deanna could see.

"I don't doubt that," she agreed. She narrowed her focus to the tiny blue targets and hit four of them before her eyes started to sting. She'd come to Guinan because she had nowhere else to turn. Normally, if she needed to talk she'd have Will to turn to, or Beverly. Both of them were impossible at the moment. Talking to her mother about this was completely beyond the realm of what she could comprehend.

"Will's biggest problem may be that he wants to have children with me," Deanna continued. "Since I was already in sickbay, I asked Doctor Selar run a prenatal exam." The phaser started to shake in her hand and she simply dropped her arm to her side. "I thought I would have children someday. When I was pregnant with Ian, I was extremely nervous. I wasn't involved in what was happening to me. I couldn't imagine a life for him. I was disconnected from the experience. Then I realized it wasn't an unpleasant one. I genuinely cared for him. When he died, I realized that someday I might actually want to have a child. Perhaps if I fell in love and became part of a serious relationship."

Guinan stopped firing and the lights of the firing range stopped in midair around them. "Being in Will's head convinced you it was a good idea?"

"I can't have him," she admitted to the still lights above their heads. "Will wants children. We talked about it on that damn planet until our fire nearly died. He wants to have children, to move on, to have a life that includes a family so badly that his need felt like part of me." Her eyes were past stinging and warm tears were threatening her cheeks. "When I woke up in sickbay and he was gone from my mind--"

"The urge was still there," Guinan correctly interpreted for her. "Will was gone, but you still wanted a child."

"I've resisted it for years," Deanna snapped. The phaser in her hand shook even as she held her hand down at her side. "My mother wants me to marry, so I fight tooth and nail against her. Will wants a relationship that's more that what we have, and I push him away. I thought I knew what I wanted. Then Beverly became pregnant--" she broke off, shaking her head. "I couldn't imagine why she'd want to go through that--"

"It was right for her," Guinan interjected. "An occasional brush with darkness reminds us that the light does return."

"I told myself I would never act as she did." Though she contemplated tossing her phaser at the edge of the ring as hard as she could, Deanna sank down to the floor. She held the phaser in her lap.

"I can't hear Will right now," she sighed and didn't bother to wipe the tears from her face. "My head's scrambled. My empathetic abilities are fogged."

"Post-traumatic mental soup?" Guinan folded her legs beneath herself and sat down next to Deanna.

"Something like that."

"You still want to have children," the other woman said for her. Guinan's tone was soft and serene and Deanna wanted to wrap herself up in it.

She let her phaser clatter to the floor and wrapped her arms around her chest. "I can't," she answered softly. "Something with Ian. Something with the radiation--" she trailed off. With her throat closing, Deanna had to start again.

This time she managed to be more distinct, "My ova have been corrupted. When I was carrying Ian, I was exposed to a massive dose of Eichtner radiation. He made himself out of me and somehow, during that process every other egg, every other piece of my DNA that might be used to have a child was destroyed. He was the only child of mine that could ever exist and he killed himself six years ago."

Guinan was quiet. The target range was silent. The soft blackness around them soaked up Deanna's sorrow like a sponge. Guinan's hand rested on her shoulder and warmth washed through her from the touch.

"I didn't know," Deanna finished. "I couldn't have. I could have gone through years of my life before I knew. I'm sure he never meant to hurt me."

"It's still acceptable to be angry," Guinan's hand ran down her arm and squeezed sympathetically above her elbow. "You can hate him."

Silence grabbed her as firmly as Guinan and Deanna let herself slip into it. Her mind was a cloud of unformed thoughts. She couldn't feel Will at all and could barely even sense the chess game that was Guinan's thoughts.

"I don't know what I feel," she sighed and let her shoulders droop. "I wouldn't wish him away. Will and I, if there is such a thing, we can find a way. Worf was adopted. I have children who have lost their parents come through my office and I know some of them could do much worse than finding a home with Will and me."

"If you intend to become a unit with Will Riker," Guinan nudged her.

"I love him," Deanna thought aloud. "I can talk to him. I trust him. We're sexually compatible, we have a long history of intimacy on many levels."

"You sound like that's enough."

Forcing herself to breath slowly, Deanna let her chest collapse as she exhaled. "It is or isn't. We are and we aren't." Wiping her face on the back of her hand, she tried again. "What's enough?"

"When I hear the best parts of myself from my partner and from my heart, I marry that partner," Guinan offered. "Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. It's usually worth the experience."

Nudging his foot with hers by accident, Beverly almost smiled when his foot shifted and pushed hers back. Decorum was too important for him to play footsie, but the motion had distracted her from the way her breasts ached. Crossing her arms over them helped a little. Her pregnancy-related trial of the day seemed to be the tissues of her breasts. She'd spent years of her life ignoring her breasts, now they wanted to swell their way out of her skin. She could find the time to knead them at the end of the day, which helped ease the soreness. If she was lucky, Jean-Luc would do it for her.

Brushing her foot against his again, she forced herself to pay attention to Data's calm explanation of the Roslin Stellar Cluster and the data the Xhiung Sa had been collecting. As the android returned to his seat, Jean-Luc's foot moved past her ankle and she realized he might be aware of the look on her face.

"If there's nothing else?" he started to push back from the table.

Beverly stopped him with a look. "Captain," she began to report. "The xenobiology department is studying a rare form of cytherium motile fungi. The samples are both more delicate and larger than they are accustomed to dealing with. Med labs two and three are being devoted to their research but I could use a little help meeting their power requirements for containment."

"I would be more than happy to assist you to that end, doctor," Data piped up immediately.

Smiling at the android, she nodded. "Thank you, Data."

Jean-Luc checked the room once more and stood up. "All right, Number One, you have the bridge while we make our way to the stellar cluster. Keep me appraised on our motile fungi, doctor." His glance her way was amused and she could sense his flirtation.

Turning her smile to him, she nodded. If Beverly was lucky, she would see him for dinner. If their day continued the way it was going, he'd be home early and he would have time to work the soreness out of her breasts. Sex before dinner had a certain indulgence to it and just knowing it was his foot beneath the table set her off. Wondering when she'd gotten to this point, Beverly chewed on her bottom lip. Last week she'd wanted to crawl into bed and wait the rest of her pregnancy out. Running her eyes over his body, she sighed just loud enough for him to hear it as she walked past him.

"Of course, captain," she retorted playfully. Data was watching her and more importantly, she could feel Jean-Luc's eyes on her back. Data wouldn't care. She followed him to the turbolift, leaving Jean-Luc to study the curves of her hips. He'd mentioned once that her hips were changing and she had no intention of letting him forget.

Data followed her into the turbolift and Worf joined them. The big Klingon took the back of the lift and Beverly leaned against the wall with one arm.

"Engineering," Data requested politely and the lift began to hum.

Beverly was contentedly lost in thought regarding how best to get the captain out of uniform when the baby started fluttering. She knew it was more like swimming, but the sensation was akin to having a small insect trapped just beneath her navel. The baby had slept most of the morning and the sudden burst of activity startled her mother.

"Doctor?" Data's voice startled her. Beverly felt Worf move behind her and realized that she must have jumped.

'I'm all right," she promised quickly. Smiling to calm both men, Beverly touched her stomach with her left hand. "The baby's gotten strong enough that I can feel her moving. It startled me."

"Fascinating," Data remarked. His yellow eyes dropped down and stared at her stomach as if he could see through her flesh. "May I congratulate you that you now know the sex of the child. I have also noticed that you have started to gain additional mass. I would like to say that it 'suits you'."

Laughing at Data and trying not to blush, Beverly smiled. "Thank you Data."

Worf made a dry sound, almost a snort of amusement. The noise was deep enough in his throat that it reminded her oddly of a large cat grunting contentedly.

"I am pleased the captain's child is strong," he added when she looked back at him. "Being that you are her mother, Doctor, I expected as much."

"Doctor," Data's polite inquiry drew her back to him. "May I?"

Beverly stared at him and wondered if his advanced android senses could pick up the movement of the baby through the flesh of her stomach. "I don't know if you'll feel anything," she answered. She knew he was incapable of being disappointed but also how much it would mean to him. "A human wouldn't but you're welcome to try."

Data's hand reached for her stomach and Beverly rolled her eyes to herself when she realized the belly groping was starting before she'd even had time to really think about changing to maternity uniforms. Guiding Data's cool fingers, she found the spot where she'd last felt the wriggling.

"Give her a moment," she urged him. Turning towards Data made it easier for him to reach, and Beverly could see Worf smiling at her from behind Data. "Okay, there? Feel that?"

Widening as he nodded, Data's eyes brightened. "Yes Doctor. It is a minute vibration, but it is distinctly not part of your internal anatomy."

While beaming at him, Beverly's rush of pride surprised her. Dropping her gaze to the white hand on her stomach, she wondered how the baby would like her many uncles. "I guess you can feel it."

"Truly fascinating doctor," Data reported as the doors opened into the corridor outside main engineering. "Thank you."

Both sets of eyes, Klingon and android were on her. Data's gold ones were politely intrigued and Worf was dryly amused. "I believe the captain is also extremely pleased with the child," Data continued. "Our discussions on the subject have been very enlightening. He has greatly altered his perspective on the subject of children aboard starships."

"We'll see how he feels in a few more months when he hasn't slept," she teased them both as Geordi approached them from down the corridor.

His expression passed through polite confusion to genuine amusement. Raising his eyebrows in surprise under his visor, the engineer stared at the three of them. "Everything all right?"

"Yes Geordi," Data answered as he removed his hand and left the lift. "Everything is very well. However, I am afraid you will have to wait to experience this sensation."

Worf shrugged and waited for Beverly to leave the lift first.

"I'm impressed," she admitted to him as they walked. "Humans usually can't detect fetal movement for another few weeks."

"There are also many changes that a Klingon is aware of while humans are not," Worf answered. They rounded the corner towards engineering and he remained close behind her.

Turning her head to shoot him a curious glance, Beverly rested her own hand on her stomach for a moment before she started fidgeting with her sleeve. "For example?"

"Your scent has changed. There is a perceptible alteration in your gait-"

Data heard them, paused long enough to allow them to catch up and added his observations. "You stand closer to the captain at social functions."

"He spends more time observing you," Worf finished. "It is very obvious that you are mates and would be so to any Klingon who saw you together. Any who spent more than a few minutes with you would realize you are with child."

On the other side the instrument table, Geordi started to chuckle.

"Agreed," Data added. "I have noticed an eighteen percent increase in the amount of time the captain keeps visual contact with you. That behavior is consistent with mated pairs in many species"

Beverly felt herself flush and the heat ran up her face. "I had no idea," she replied.

Geordi just grinned over the table.

"Family and mating bonds are an important part of Klingon culture," Data volunteered with a nod. "I imagine refined senses would be useful."

"I apologize if I made you uncomfortable," Worf added. "It was meant as a compliment. I am pleased that you and the captain are so contented together."

Wrapping her arms over her chest, Beverly was again aware of the soreness and swelling in her breasts. It was frustrating and uncomfortable but better than nausea by a wide margin. Smiling at Worf, she nodded, "I'm sure he appreciates that we have your blessing."

Worf took both the sarcastic barb and the affection behind it gracefully.

"All right," Beverly steered the conversation back to the reason why she was down in engineering. "How do we keep the motile fungi safely locked away?"

Beverly, La Forge, Data and Worf all arrived together from engineering. She was laughing about something with the three men as Jean-Luc entered the observation lounge. Riker was right behind him and Troi entered from the far left and took the seat next to his Number One. As had become her habit, Beverly sat in the chair on the left of his. Surveying his staff, Jean-Luc remained on his feet.

"Really?" she asked Worf with a smirk. The Klingon nodded seriously and turned his attention to the captain.

Jean-Luc loved that smirk and the way it only retreated as far as her eyes. He didn't know what they were talking about but he could have basked in the serenity in her face. Feeling the eyes of his senior officers all turn to him, he forced himself to drag his gaze off of the curl of Beverly's lips.

"We have been diverted to the Hekares corridor. A medical transport called the Fleming has been out of contact for the last four days and Starfleet would like us to investigate," he told his staff. "We will be delaying our redezvous with the Xhiung Sa until after we've located the Fleming."

"The Hekares corridor is a nasty place to go missing," Riker observed.

Jean-Luc hovered behind Beverly's chair instead of taking his own. He was fairly certain she'd been playing with his feet during the morning meeting and he'd been unable to think of anything else. Staring down over her head, he studied the more pronounced curves of her breasts. She'd complained about needing to replicate a new bra that morning, and though he'd listened, he'd been entranced by the smooth flesh of her breasts pressed tightly into the black fabric. Somehow the fact that they'd had both the time and energy for sex only made him more distracted by the idea.

He was unaccustomed to this type of multi-tasking and had to remind himself that a certain amount staring was acceptable. His mind didn't need to be entirely focused on the mission at every moment. Jean-Luc had an excellent staff and they would keep him focused. There were moments of the day where he was allowed to think about his lover and his daughter.

"Indeed," Data concurred with Riker from his place by the display. "The unusually intense tetryon fields in this sector pose a severe navigational hazard to warp driven vessels. They will also make it more difficult to ascertain the cause of the Fleming's disappearance."

La Forge nodded and turned his shielded eyes towards Data. "We should be able to coax a little more out of the long range sensors, captain. We've started installing multi-phase buffers on the sensor modules."

Riker studied the graphic on the wall as Data took his seat. "I've been in contact with the government on Hekares Two, they haven't heard from the Fleming. The only other ship to pass through the system in the last week was a Ferengi trader--"

Beverly leaned forward and the chair moved beneath his hands. "The Fleming was carrying a supply of bio-mimetic gel. That's rare and quite valuable. Is it possible the Ferengi hijacked it?"

Jean-Luc heard the disgust in Beverly's voice. Worf glowered and shared a look with Riker.
His first officer looked up, features dark with frustration.

"I wouldn't put it past them," Riker suggested. "We'll need to keep that contingency in mind."

"Agreed," he nodded. Jean-Luc didn't relish the idea of a confrontation with the Ferengi. Simply threatening them into compliance would be an easy solution, better than losing the Fleming to some kind of spatial disruption. He spent a moment steeling himself to deal with the Ferengi and then turned to his operations officer.

"I trust the power modifications to the medical laboratories were successful?" he asked.

"We were able to modify the eps conduits to provide the necessary energy," Data reported.

"Well done," Jean-Luc noted. He ran his eyes around the table as the meeting concluded. "Mister La Forge, the sensors are your priority. Mister Worf, the search patterns are yours. Number One, I'd like you to look into the price of bio-mimetic gel on the less reputable markets. Doctor, please keep me informed."

Everyone stood and exited. His presence behind her chair slowed her and Jean-Luc caught her half smile as she left. He'd be on the bridge for the next few hours, she'd be in sickbay and at the end of the shift, he could get her out of her uniform again. Somehow, that made even dealing with Ferengi seem worthwhile.

"Will," Deanna swallowed as she said his name. He didn't need to feel her to sense her despair. Whatever had happened, hung over her like a dark cloud.

"Hey," he answered. Catching her arm, he pulled her in to his quarters. "Still off duty?"

She nodded once. "It's not that," Deanna corrected him. Her arms were around her chest and she almost trembled. "I've been avoiding you."

"That's allowed," Will grinned back gently. "You were stuck with me for a day and a half. Not many people could have put up with bumping into me every five seconds."

Making her smile was headway, he wondered if this was what Selar had alluded to. Was something else wrong? Had her empathic powers been damaged? Few things shook Deanna to the core of her being. Now she felt wrong, shattered somehow, as if her mind lay in ruins. He could almost smell the dust.

"I-" she started and stopped. "Will-" Deanna tried again but failed. "Something's wrong."

When he grabbed her shoulder, her hands landed on his chest. The sensation of dust, deep and gritty, covering his mind grew more intense. Deanna shuddered and breath failed her. Whatever it was, she was past holding it. Carrying it with her took too much energy and she was here out of desperation.

She belonged here. Wiping the dust from his mind, Will stopped trying to guess and simply waited for her. The aching beneath the debris was worse than Kestra; even more intense than Ian had been. Deanna's feelings for Ian had been a miasma. Grief and gratitude blended into her memories in a way she didn't understand. She'd come to him because she loved him.

"Doctor Selar--"

Will tried to help her, "Your empathic powers?"

"No," she corrected him. "Will. I thought-wanted to see-I mean, I asked Selar to run a prenatal scan, to see if I could have children."

"You didn't want them--" he whispered. Deanna shook her head and whatever she was trying to say echoed through her mind and his like the lonely wind on a dead planet.

"It doesn't matter what I want. I can't," she finished. Her dark eyes widened in horror before she dropped her head to his chest. "She thinks the radiation- whatever Ian was- the radiation that kept him alive destroyed my ovaries. Everything left is--"

The dust blew up into his face, stinging his eyes and choking his throat. Deanna's hands clung to his shoulders. The ruins made sense. She didn't cry as she leaned against his chest. Will wasn't even entirely sure Deanna was breathing.

"Can she do anything?" he wondered. The silence between them and the stillness in her mind felt like standing on the surface of that lifeless ruin in her head.

"No," Deanna turned her head and rested her cheek against his chest. "There's nothing. It's corrupt. My ova are destroyed. It's almost good I found out now. If I'd actually tried to get pregnant--"

It was too much to face. Deanna had gone from wondering if she even wanted children on Kesprytt to knowing she could never have them. Will realized Selar must have known earlier. In her own way, the Vulcan had tried to prepare him. He didn't know what he was supposed to say or think. Will could feel her devastation both in her voice and the way she clung to him.

Part of him wondered if the cold knot in his stomach was because he'd just lost something he had only started to desire. Will couldn't picture himself having children with someone else. If they couldn't, that meant changing his plans for the future. Deanna was integral to his future. They were imzadi, and no matter what was happening within her body, he would always be connected to her. That connection was more important than knowing his children shared his DNA, or feeling them grow inside of her. He wanted her and that was foremost in his heart.

The little noises were his undoing, Beverly knew. Her inhalation when Jean-Luc started freeing her from her lab coat, the little gasp she made when he caressed her thigh and the way she sighed when he nuzzled the back of her neck. Beverly had her hands on the glass surface of his desk. She'd been playing with something when he'd finally returned from the Bridge. She'd started teasing him when he'd walked in and he'd surprised her by grabbing her hips from behind.

The search for the Fleming was underway, La Forge was working to increase sensor efficiency and nothing needed either of their immediately attention. His lips were hot on the back of her neck and she sighed again.

"I'm not going to let you stop," she teased. "If you keep going, you'll have to finish."

He set the lab coat neatly on the desk. Then Jean-Luc's strong hands grabbed her zipper and began easing her out of her uniform. The heat of his fingers slipped along the bare skin of her back.

"Promise not to think of less of me if I tell you I've been thinking about this all day?" she smirked.

Making him laugh was one of the great pleasures of her day and Beverly sighed contentedly. His hands found their way to her stomach and he hugged her close for a long moment.

"As your captain, I am unaware of any dereliction of your duties," he dead-panned. Jean-Luc rested his chin on her shoulder and they paused. "I have to admit that I've been distracted by you since the morning briefing."

"Jean-Luc, that's very unprofessional!" she replied in mock astonishment.

"You are a very beautiful woman," Jean-Luc reminded her.

Covering his arms with her own, Beverly let her eyes close as she leaned into him. "Remember what I said about being spoiled?"

"I rarely pay attention when you speak," he replied as if he were letting her in on a complex secret. "I find the movement of your lips utterly distracting."

Sighing again happily, she turned in his arms and kissed him sweetly. "Good." Reaching around the back of his neck, she started removing his uniform jacket. Beverly had him down to his grey tank top when her commbadge chirped.

Jean-Luc sighed, disappointed but patient. He leaned back and kept his hands on her ribs.

"Doctor Selar to Doctor Crusher," her surgeon's voice interrupted from the comm system.

"Crusher here," she answered. Mouthing her apologies to Jean-Luc, she leaned back against the desk.

"I require your presence in sickbay, sir," Selar requested. "If available, Captain Picard should accompany you."

Beverly's annoyance vanished and was replaced with cold panic. "We're on our way," she replied, numb from her head down.

Putting that fear aside, she tried to remind herself that there were many things that could require both her and the captain's attention . Jean-Luc closed the zipper of her uniform for her and kissed her cheek. The warmth of his lips dissuaded her panic momentarily. She bit her lip and reflexively pulled her hair free of her uniform collar.

"I'm sorry."

"Hey," he stopped pulling his jacket back on and held her cheek with his hand. "Everything is fine."

Her right hand went to her stomach and she forced herself to pull it away. Worrying too much would frighten him as much as it frightened her and she needed him to think everything was fine. Perhaps if he did, she could as well. They walked the corridor in silence. Beverly couldn't look at him in the turbolift. She hadn't put her lab coat back on and she couldn't find anything to do with her hands. Wringing them wasn't helping but she couldn't stop her hands from moving.

"Sorry," she repeated, shaking her head.

His smile was far more genuine than hers had been. "I'm sure it's routine."

"Routine doesn't drag us both down to sickbay," she reminded him. Shoving the cold fear down into the pit of her stomach, she forced herself to smile at him. "I'm all right."

"Of course you are," he muttered. The look Jean-Luc shot her was full of disbelief but he said nothing. She knew he was exaggerating his displeasure to lighten the mood and she tried to smile in appreciation. The turbolift stopped before she realized it was even moving. Beverly walked in silence next to him, until they reached sickbay.

Khel Sahad, duty nurse that evening, met them at the door. "Doctor Selar is waiting for you in the lab," he explained with a nod.

"Thank you, Sahad," she replied. At her side, Jean-Luc nodded to young man. As she led them to the lab, he drew closer to her as if he sensed her unease. His hand was on the small of her back as they entered.

Selar's features were inscrutable and Beverly found that strangely comforting. The Vulcan's eyes hid her emotion and it was calming.

"I apologize again for summoning both of you," Selar began politely. "I assure you both, the fetus is healthy and you need not be concerned. Doctor Crusher, I need to run a gametic scan. I believe you may have been exposed to a potentially dangerous compound and it is prudent to run the test immediately."

"Something in the implant we removed?" Beverly asked as she slid up onto the medical lab's biobed. "Some unknown metal or trace radiation?" Her mind flew through the dizzying array of things she could have exposed herself too. She hadn't checked. She'd read the schematics but she hadn't checked the chemical compounds. Kicking herself for the oversight, she lay down.

"Is this a new condition?" Beverly continued as she stared up at the ceiling. The last time she'd looked up at the soft beige with the white lighting, she'd been impregnating herself. "Something I've come into contact with? I ran several tests on myself six weeks ago, those results should be in my medical file."

Selar stopped setting the scanner and turned to her. "Six weeks ago, you exposed yourself to a low level of Eichtner radiation for a twelve hour period. Eichtner radiation may have a detrimental effect on haploid DNA," she explained. "I simulated exposure to eight human haploid samples. Three of them were completely corrupted after six hours, two more were damaged, and three were unaffected. It was wise to run the test immediately."

Jean-Luc stood near her, watching the two doctors speak with each other. His hand moved to her shoulder as she lay back, hers flew up to his in response and he clasped her hand firmly. The strength of his grip was calming. Waiting gnawed at her stomach.

"Please remain still," Selar requested, activating the scanner from the wall panel. "The scan will be brief."

Swallowing the desire to remind the Vulcan that she knew exactly what was going on, Beverly concentrated on the possible causes necessitating the test.

The soft hum of the scan began. Selar walked over and looked down at her, "The computer will construct a haploid DNA profile and make certain your gametes have not been corrupted."

"Corrupted?" Jean-Luc repeated.

Beverly could picture Jean-Luc's look of helpless frustration even though she hadn't looked up from their entwined hands. She needed his hand on hers; she hadn't realized how much.

"If my ova are corrupt we won't be able to have another baby," she explained dully. "This fetus is healthy and I would be fine, but she would be our only child." Each time she had to deal with the fertility of a patient, her heart jumped into her throat. Now that they were discussing her own, her heart was still and her head felt frozen.

She started to slide off the biobed, intent on getting a look at Selar's data but Jean-Luc's hands on her knees stopped her.

"Had you thought about having another child?" he wondered. "I know it came up in jest."

Suddenly DNA didn't seem that important. Craving the certainty of medical data, Beverly wanted to focus on the computer. She couldn't think with his hands on her knees. His eyes were on her womb. The idea that she could have damaged herself didn't sting. She'd understood what she was doing, but she hadn't been prepared for Jean-Luc's involvement.

She'd spent so much time alone that she'd forgotten how to share her burdens. Raising her son, she had led a solitary life. Wesley wasn't a partner, not the way Jean-Luc was. Even her marriage to Jack was a poor comparison because that relationship had been so different.

Beverly had just as much adapting to do as Jean-Luc did. He accepted her presence more easily than she reciprocated his calm. She'd been so ready for rejection that she barely trusted that they were united, no matter how many times he demonstrated his affection.

He was waiting for her to answer. She bit her lip and nodded, "I thought we might. That way you could be involved in conception."

The weak joke made him smile. Jean-Luc scratched the back of his head with his free hand. "Another baby," he repeated softly. His hazel eyes were soft and wide. Instead of the shock she expected, his expression was thoughtful. He pulled himself up on the biobed next to her.

"I didn't have the best relationship with my brother," Jean-Luc offered. "We fought constantly, argued and we've never seen eye to eye on anything. However, I can't imagine my life with him absent from it. After my experience with the Borg, we found common ground. We've even been getting along."

His hand rested on her shoulder and then unexpectedly stroked her hair. It was almost too intimate of a display, and Beverly was surprised by his degree of comfort with it. Perhaps it was simply that Selar was ignoring them, or that his fear had shaken him.

Across the lab, the hum of the scan subsided and Selar's attention was drawn to the screen as it began to sequence. Beverly knew it would take a few moments and forced herself to look away. Keeping herself distracted from the computer, she ended up with her eyes back on him.

"If it is indeed a possibility, I think I would like to have another child." Jean-Luc finished his thought. "Someday." His half-smile was soft.

Looking at him, her cacophonous thoughts ceased. Leaning closer, she rested her cheek against his shoulder. "Not someday soon?" she teased brazenly, surprising herself.

"Perhaps we could deal with our children one at a time," he replied. Jean-Luc's smile was becoming convincing and she almost returned it.

Beverly's mind had other ideas. While she'd focused on him, her thoughts had arranged themselves. "What made you study Eichtner radiation?" Beverly answered her own question. "You found something. Some paper was released or dammit--" She dropped Jean-Luc's hand and anxiously fidgeted with the edge of the biobed. "Deanna," she shook her head grimly. "Something's wrong with Deanna."

"Couselor Troi's ova are corrupted," Selar answered with a slight nod. Beverly had worked with the Vulcan long enough to recognize sympathy in her face. "The Eichtner radiation produced by the entity known as Ian had a detrimental effect on her entire reproductive system. The duration of her exposure was three times that of your own. She suffered no circulatory or nervous damage. It is also possible the condition is unrelated to the radiation, however, that is an unlikely scenario."

The computer beeped in completion. Beverly slid off the biobed and crossed to the results of the scan. Her DNA played out before her on the screen in smooth, unbroken chains of code. The Howard red hair, her father's blue eyes, her long fingers and the legs that had taken her all of her adolescence to finally grow into; were all there in her genetic code.

Her genes were undamaged. Her ovaries were healthy and all of her ova, save a handful that were simply statistically inferior, were fine. Relief washed over her like an electric shock. The failure of the worst to occur made her head spin.

"Your ova are undamaged," Selar read the data concurrently. "The cause of Counselor Troi's infertility is apparently more complex than I initially thought." Turning around to the captain, the Vulcan reported for him. "Doctor Crusher is fine. You will have many opportunities to have more children, should that be your desire."

Jean-Luc's hand rested on the small of her back. His fingers reached for her side and rested on her hip. "Why didn't it effect you?" he asked softly. His relief was in his hand but it tinged his voice as well.

"Type of exposure, method of delivery, blind luck--" Beverly shrugged, bitter on Deanna's behalf. "It could be anything."

"I will continue my research," Selar raised an eyebrow towards her data. "I apologize again--"

"No need," Beverly said, smiling faintly. "I appreciate knowing everything is all right. We can talk in the morning. Thank you." Jean-Luc's shoulder touched her back as he moved closer. When they were back in their quarters, she could hug him properly. For the moment, being aware of his proximity had to be enough.

Even though sickbay was nearly her home, she wanted out. Her emotional control was shot and with Jean-Luc there, she couldn't work. The emotional shutdown she relied on to get through difficult situations was impossible to maintain with him present. Beverly's vulnerability had become too close to the surface and he dragged it out even more.

As if he sensed her inability to focus, Jean-Luc slipped into command mode. "Thank you for your time and your diligence doctor," he nodded to Selar without smiling. Vulcan calm had always been easy for him, and Beverly had noticed it had become even more familiar after his experience wth Sarek.

"Goodnight, captain, doctor," Selar's gaze passed over both of them before she returned to her work.

Jean-Luc's arm steered her towards the doorway. Sickbay was nearly empty and Beverly let him guide her as her conscious mind abandoned her. She couldn't focus. Thinking about Deanna, Beverly felt the incredible weight of her guilt. Her relief was just as overwhelming. Last year, she could have forced both emotions away until she got back to her quarters. Now, relinquishing control to him was the only way to keep her own intact long enough to reach their quarters.
Chapter 9: valediction

"I have to say, I've never done this before," Will observed, scraping his finger through the bottom of his sundae. The hot fudge clung to his fingers and he stared at it for a moment before he licked it off. Chocolate was good, but he wouldn't have indulged without Deanna's urging. "Ice cream in bed was something my father frowned upon."

"My father used to give me ice cream and read westerns to me," Deanna offered, smiling and setting her clean ice cream bowl away. She stretched and frowned at the chronometer. "Where does the time go?"

He set his empty bowl aside on the table and tilted his head towards her. "The time since we were children?"

Singing, Deanna shook her head. "The time since we should have gone to sleep."

Will chuckled and moved his arm as she lay back on his chest. Her decision to snuggle in towards his chest surprised him a little. Deanna had been careful to sleep in her own quarters since they'd rekindled their relationship and he'd respected that. Now she appeared to be changing her mind.

"Not that there was anything wrong with being a child," she mused, head on his chest. "I remember my father telling me how he used to listen to stories of the old explorers in his bedroom. Captain Archer, Zefram Cochrane, Andorian space pirates, Bajoran solar sailors--"

Will pulled his fingers through her hair, lazily following the waves with his fingers. "And cowboys?" he wondered.

"Always cowboys," she agreed. "He used to tell me that space cowboys were just the next step in a long line of people finding new ways of life in the wilderness."

Shifting in his bed, Will moved a pillow out from under his shoulder and watched the stars. Deanna's breathing slowed and he wondered if he should turn off the lights. Hearing his thought, Deanna did it for him. Calling to the computer, she left them in darkness.

"Your father sounds poetic," he thought aloud. "He chose Starfleet for the thrill of exploration and meeting new aliens?" Will could feel her thoughts drift and deepen. The gentle memories of her father became a deeper shade of blue, as if they were sinking under water.

"Lacking the option to become a gunslinger, he enjoyed his career very much." Deanna's head nudged his chin. "I remember playing with the rank insignia on his uniform right after he made lieutenant commander and him telling me how important it was.

"He loved his position and the experiences it gave him. My father reading to me but he talked very little. Which, now that I think about it is probably why my mother got along with him so well. When she was gone, I'd stay up late, listening to him read old westerns to me."

"Did you ever ship out with him?" Will asked. Deanna's early childhood was something she brought up rarely and the sleepy contentment of her mind made him curious.

"Once for a few weeks," she answered warmly. "The Brilliareahi was Ambassador class and I got to travel with the few other kids on board."

"A pre-galaxy class test run?"

Deanna's giggle shook her shoulders against his chest. "A mission from Betazed to a xenolinguistics conference on Deneva," she remembered. "I was probably four or five. There were twenty other children and we played in one of the cargo bays. I remember a lot of hiding in the big yellow cargo containers."

"My father and I did not travel together while he was working," Will replied with as little bitterness as he could manage. "We fished and took vacations, but I never went with him on a mission."

"Your father went on different types of missions," she reminded him. "I doubt he would have taken my mother's last name or lived on a planet full of telepaths. Nor would my father have been any good at strategic relations."

Silence filled his quarters and Will knew he could have gone to sleep. He could feel the thought Deanna was contemplating flutter like a moth. He agreed with her, but neither of them was in a hurry to say it aloud.

She moved up his chest, leaning on an elbow. "We are not any more doomed than anyone else to repeat the mistakes of our parents," she promised him. "I know I thought it as well--"

Keeping her from finishing, Will brushed his fingers across her cheek. "Sometimes I just like to know that you're listening."

"My feelings about having a child had nothing to do with my feelings for you." Deanna's eyes betrayed her thoughts, even in darkness.

Running his thumb along her cheek, he smiled. "I know."

"I didn't want--"

Kissing her was an effective way to stop her apology, and Will sank into the familiar warmth of her mouth. Her mind was just as inviting as her lips.

Guilt and fear stood out in her thoughts like knots in a muscle. He softened them with his calm as if he could knead them out. His fear was reflected in the depths of her mind; fear that he'd be a terrible father and that he was abandoning Deanna again if he left the Enterprise looked back at him.

She plucked the thoughts out of his mind easily. Deanna stroked his hair from his forehead and smiled. "Tell me about the ship," she suggested. "You and I belong together, imzadi. We're not parting again."

Yawning, he nodded. Their agreement settled deep between them, like fingers winding into his heart. Deanna returned to his chest. Will looked out into the stars and repeated Starfleet's latest offer. He'd been thinking of accepting this command and finally stretching his wings. If Deanna would go with him, that made leaving an adventure instead of a retreat. The Enterprise and Picard would be all right without him.

"She's called Voyager," he began.

"Nana-" Beverly started with a relieved sigh. "I was worried I wouldn't be able to catch you." She sank into the chair in her office and smiled at the small video screen. Worf had been kind enough to keep the channel open while one of the village children ran for her grandmother and brought her down to the office on Caldos.

"Worried?" Felisa Howard raised an eyebrow on the comm screen. "Why would you be worried? Didn't get kicked out of Starfleet again, did you? I've warned you about autopsying strange men."

Her green eyes were brilliant, even over subspace. Beverly had always been jealous of those eyes. Seeing her grandmother's face took away an entire layer of unrest she had barely been aware of. Smiling easily, Beverly leaned forward towards the screen.

"I'm still in Starfleet," Beverly answered, rolling her eyes. "I just wanted to talk to you as face to face as I could manage."

"I trust Wes is all right on Earth?"

"Wesley's fine," Beverly promised her. "You read his last letter. He's incredibly busy, but I'm sure you remember how demanding the Academy is."

"Of course," Felisa answered briskly. "I just like to make certain. You look tired, Beverly," she observed, looking down her nose at the screen. "Is that Captain Picard working you too hard?"

Beverly bit her lip and tried not to laugh, "Jean-Luc has actually become a little less overprotective now that I'm feeling better."

Clucking her tongue, Felisa shook her head. "Now, I'm happy that you're not by yourself any longer, but- perhaps you have a little too much going on in the bedroom that's not sleep?" she pried. "Your eyes look tired but you're not green. I suppose you want me not to worry." The channel sat silent for a moment, then her grandmother's lips curled into a wry smile. Looking Beverly over shrewdly, she nodded.

"You should have let yourself have Jean-Luc earlier," Felisa decided for her. "I've found pictures him in our Federation newscasts. It's been years since I last saw him and I have to say he's still a very attractive man. Gentle eyes, dimpled chin, lines in the right places-- Your grandfather had the same lines around his mouth. They gave away how thoughtful he was."


"As I recall, Jean-Luc is thoughtful," Felisa listed off. "Gentle, intelligent. A mite stiff, if I remember correctly."

"He's softened a great deal," Beverly promised, smiling. Resting her hand on her belly, she wondered again when she was going to get the three of them together so Nana's experiences of Jean-Luc could be more than hearsay.

Felisa started to chuckle. "Yes, I bet the baby's softened him like butter on warm bread." Her eyes were quick to find Beverly's. "Somehow, babies happen so fast with you," she wondered with a slow shake of her head. "You barely had 'Nana, I'm involved with the Captain of the Enterprise' out of your mouth before you were telling me there was a baby as well. Speaking of which, stand up, let me get a look at you."

Doing as she was told, Beverly felt a little foolish standing with her belly in front of the comm screen. She could hardly argue with Nana's fussing but she wasn't entirely convinced there was much to see.

"Turn left," her grandmother ordered. "Don't know where you and your mother got your height from. If I know your figure as well as I think I do, you look around five months."

She paused, shaking her head reproachfully. "You still haven't told me how you got yourself into this. I thought Wes would have taught you to keep your implant up to date. Indulge an old woman, did you run into some kind of spacial vortex? Or did you simply decide it was about damn time for another one? You've been vague in your letters."

Guilt surged up unpleasantly warm in Beverly's stomach. "Eighteen weeks. I would have told you sooner," she searched for an answer, "but I missed some time in the beginning,"

"It's all right, no use worrying about it now," her grandmother's smile broadened. "What matters is that you're happy."

"Yes, I am, very much so," the truth in the reflexive answer calmed them both. "Jean-Luc is as well."

"Good. I'm inclined to believe you," Felisa's voice stopped for a moment. When she was content, she said, "You can sit," and waved her down. "Better start talking while you're at it."

"It's complicated," Beverly protested weakly.

Felisa's expression was that odd combination of being both strict and concerned. "Beverly--"

"It was a life or death situation," she volunteered quickly.

The vague answer did nothing to assuage her grandmother. "Like the cave on the arms planet where you got yourself all banged up?" Felisa remembered with unerring clarity. "Or did you get stuck in another universe about to collapse in around your ears and just think it was a good idea to get yourself up the duff?"

She leaned forward towards the screen and Beverly could see the enamel brooch pinned on her dress. She remembered watching Nana get dressed. She'd pin it on last, right after she was done with her hair. It was something of her mother's, and precious to her.

Massaging a phantom pain out of her wrist, Beverly dropped her eyes from the screen and stared at her lap. "He was going to die."

"Go around having the babies of everyone on the ship about to die and you'll be a bit busy," Felisa warned her dryly before she fussed. "You're a little thin for eighteen weeks. Tell me, when is the Enterprise going to be in the sector? You obviously need to spend a few days eating something that didn't come from a replicator. You also can't deprive an old woman of the simple pleasure of giving a Starfleet Captain a wee bit of a talking too. I don't suppose you're thinking making an honest man of him any time before I'm in the ground, are you?"

"Jean-Luc cooked for me this week," she answered without touching the subject of marriage. "Did you know he's quite adept at lamb stew?"

"We all know you're not a cook," Felisa rolled her eyes warmly. "Then you are thinking about marrying him--"


"You didn't say no," her grandmother pointed out. "When you've got it in your mind to avoid something, you tell me no. You tell me no until you're as blue as your uniform. No 'no' is a 'yes' from you though."

Beverly bit her lip. She hadn't consciously thought of marrying Jean-Luc. He wouldn't bring it up. They'd already discussed it, and the child would carry his last name. Did she want to as well? How was marriage different than what she had now? They already slept together, ate together and went through the subtle minutiae of their lives.

Jean-Luc knew where to find her wayward socks and why she couldn't locate her data padds when she needed them. She knew how to make him smile when he was frustrated with admirals and protocol. They fought like a married couple, but they'd done that since she'd come on board the Enterprise. It had been an intimate friendship before she'd changed their circumstances. Now they were lovers and partners, both committed to raising their child.

What was marriage beyond what they already had together? Marrying Jack had made sense; Beverly had been enamored with him. She'd also been young and wholly unafraid of what was to come. Would marrying Jean-Luc make him more difficult to lose? She'd already been willing to risk her life for him. She'd created life for him. He was enough of her world that it almost frightened her.

"I'm not sure," she admitted aloud. "I love him. We spend most of our time together. He's as integral to my life as you or Wes."

Felisa's smile was soothing, even across light-years. "When's the wedding?"

"You really think I should ask him?" Beverly shook her head. "He was Jack's best friend."

Felisa leaned closer to the screen. She sighed and seemed to be looking through her granddaughter. "You get a few chances in life to do something really extraordinary. You married Jack and loved him like a banshee. You joined the 'fleet. You had Wesley. You became a certified Starfleet doctor, not an old witch healer like your Nana. Now you're having another baby, with a man you've loved for years but somehow, you never really got it right. Perhaps now you're just afraid your luck is going to run out."

"Maybe I'm just afraid."

"You live once," Felisa promised. "You might love many times but you only live once. If you want to marry him, you have to ask the man. Even starship captains occasionally need to be told what to do." She looked away for a moment and sighed. "All right, Beverly, I need to be getting off this commlink before I talk down the batteries or some damn thing."

"I love you."

"I love you too, now give me another call when you've got a date for the wedding," Felisa ordered. "It takes awhile to find transport. Remember to eat."

The blue symbol of the Federation ended the transmission and Beverly stared down at her lap. She had been thinking about marrying Jean-Luc. The idea wandered into her mind occasionally and she found the thought oddly attractive. Marriage was comfortable and calming. Wondering if she'd be luckier this time, Beverly wasn't sure how to move forward. She'd thought she would be with Jack for decades, like her grandparents.

Did luck have anything to do with it? She didn't believe in fate. Jack had died. Her mother had died. Life was short and frequently brutal. Was marriage a practical solution, or simply another useless way to fight loneliness? Did it matter what it was if she wanted it?

"Doctor?" Dr. El Basel, her secondary physician, interrupted her thoughts. "The counselor just arrived and I think she's looking for you."

Beverly stood, careful to catch her empty coffee cup before she knocked it over. Catching it was an improvement and she smiled softly. "I'll be right there, thanks."

Replicated soup was never as good as the real thing, he thought. Jean-Luc blew across the top of it and wondered if he should started replicating it at a lower temperature, or if he actually enjoyed the ritual of waiting for it to cool. He picked up his toast as Will finished explaining the stabilization of Atrea VI.

"Dr. Tainer's plan was successful and the planet's core should remain molten for several hundred years," he finished. "French onion?" Will asked with a raised eyebrow.

Jean-Luc nodded as he poked at the floating layer of melted cheese and crouton with his spoon. "It's delicious," he answered, smiling. "The only meal I have much say in anymore is lunch," he confided, sliding his spoon around the edge to free the cheese from the side of the bowl.

"More Vulcan food?" Will asked, lazily scanning through the duty roster.

"No," Jean-Luc grinned and lifted his toast. "We've moved on to more exotic things. Mango blueberry pancakes, mole chicken enchiladas -- tonight she has something Denobulan planned for dinner."

Will's smile flashed brilliantly through his beard. "You don't have to eat exactly what she eats, sir," he teased. "Although it sounds fascinating."

"I must admit the situation has been- an adjustment," Jean-Luc answered after he swallowed the first bite of his soup. The broth was rich and nearly as good as homemade, but the onions weren't quite right.

Will leaned back, tilting his head and still beaming. "She keeps telling you what to do?"

"It's not that, Will," Jean-Luc gestured with his toast as he tried to think. "She's not a tyrant who's changing what I would order for dinner. It's almost as if she doesn't have control of it either. What she wants to eat surprises Beverly as much as it surprises me. She'll stand in front of the replicator and just scroll through lists until she finds something."

"I'm told that's pretty normal," his Number One shrugged. "Chief O'Brien had a lot of stories about Keiko spending hours programming obscure Japanese recipes into the replicator. "

Taking advantage of Will carrying the conversation as he repeated old stories, Jean-Luc ate quickly and regretted not having time to properly savor his soup. Nibbling his toast and dredging up old memories, he raised his eyebrows. "Jack and I used to tease Beverly because she would jump cultural cravings every few days. When the Stargazer was in spacedock, the three of us would wander San Francisco. We'd have Vulcan, then Klingon, then Andorian barbecue, then old eastern Earth food or cajun."

"That has to be a little strange," Will mused, crossing his arms and watching him thoughtfully. "The only pregnant woman you've really been around-"

Jean-Luc nodded and dunked his toast into his soup. "-Is Beverly," he finished for Will. "Strange, isn't it? Of course, then I was on the other side, so to speak."

"You were having this conversation from my point of view," Will realized with a quick shake of his head. "Is it different?"

"Profoundly so," Jean-Luc replied quickly. Elaborating his thoughts as he ate, he swallowed again before he finished, "I was considerably less sympathetic to Jack than you are to me, and I appreciate your support. Walker, Captain Keel," he corrected himself, "and I frequently reprogrammed the replicator in his quarters to only produce the food item Beverly had mentioned in her last letter. Once I reprogrammed the Stargazer to only provide him with anchovy and horseradish bruschetta."

"Remind me not to count on you for sympathy if I ever have children--" Will quipped.

"It was all in good fun," Jean-Luc promised as he scraped his spoon along the bottom of the bowl. "Walker and I were two old warhorses who vowed never to be sent to stud. Giving Jack the third degree was our way of being proud of him and the choices he'd made. We were both set in our ways. Walker and I were stubborn and had no desire to give up any of our freedoms. We had our ships and our pride."

"And your hair," Will teased ruthlessly. Getting to his feet, he beamed at the captain. "Too bad neither of them can see you now, bald, lazy and soft on the flagship with a baby on the way."

Rolling his eyes at his second in command, Jean-Luc wondered when he'd become so close to the other man. He'd become more careful with his friendships after Jack died. The responsibility of command had new weight and he'd been unable to shake it. Isolation followed because he had lost his old, easy confidence and been unable to trust himself with the pain of ordering another man he loved to his death.

"Seems I've been put out to pasture after all," Jean-Luc sigh melodramatically. "Suppose that makes you the young champion out to prove his worth?

"I'm thinking about the pasture myself." Will stood to go, still grinning. "I'm going to miss you, captain."

Jean-Luc set his tea cup down with a clunk. "Will, you're taking Voyager?"

Nodding, the younger man stood thoughtfully in front of the ready room door. "It's time," he answered simply.

Pride rushed warm through Jean-Luc's chest. Standing up, he circled his desk and took Will's hand. Shaking it heartily, he studied his face. "I suppose I'll also be needing a new counselor?"

Will's smile brightened another notch. "Sorry about that."

Clasping Will's shoulder, Jean-Luc felt himself swell with joy. "The time we have is so short," he reminded the other man. "Missing your counsel will not make me any less delighted for both of you. You will make a fine captain, Number One."

"I think so," Will teased and held Jean-Luc's hand a little longer than normal. "It should still be several weeks before Voyager's ready for me."

"You understand it'll take me some time to train the crew out of the bad habits you've gotten them into," Jean-Luc deadpanned. "I hope you won't mind spending a little time with my new first officer?"

"Someone needs to tell him or her how much you hate children," Will retorted. The twinkling of his bright blue eyes clarified for Jean-Luc how much he was going to miss his first officer. It had been a lifetime ago that he'd asked Will to protect him from children. Now, Jean-Luc was sorry Will wouldn't be around to share his experience as a father. He would miss both his friendship and his support but the Voyager would a very excellent captain.

"Am I allowed to say it's about time?"

Data replaced the holochip in Juliana Tainer's cranial unit. His new program suggested that he be contacted in the event of significant damage and added an ethical fail-safe. Should Juliana need to, she would be able to access her android capabilities to assist others. Data had constructed an accurate cost-benefit analysis and he believed it was the right thing to do. His mother would not forgive herself should the shutdown protocol Noonien Soong had written take the life of another.

Sealing the unit, he allowed her programming time to integrate the new subroutine.

Dr. Crusher was unnecessarily harried. It was a human trait that frequently appeared prior to the beginning of something important to them. In this scenario, Data believed it was due to her impending departure for the scientific conference on Starbase 338. While he had been writing the new program to insert in his mother's positronic net, a necessary task should she be damaged again, he had observed several behavioral markers that suggested mild distress.

The doctor was brusque when she spoke to her medical staff. Contented humans often engaged in banter, and though sickbay was devoid of casualties, the friendly conversation was absent. Data left his place by his mother's bed and headed for Dr. Crusher's office. Her right hand tapped the console on her desk. Her left leg was up in the chair with her and her left hand was fidgeting with a piece of her hair. This set of behaviors, combined with the way she bit her lip, suggested uneasiness.

"Doctor," he began politely. "Do you have a moment?"

"Yes, Data," Dr. Crusher's voice was more sharp than normal. She met his eyes and calmed herself. "Of course, what can I do for you?"

"Thank you, doctor," he took the chair she offered. "I require nothing. I am inquiring because you appear to be under emotional stress and I wish to provide assistance."

Dr. Crusher laughed weakly and shook her head. "That's sweet of you Data," she replied, shutting off her computer. "How's your mother?"

"I have added a new set of subroutines designed to protect her from being told she is an artificial life form by someone other than myself." As Data answered her question he noted that she was behaving a diversionary fashion. "As you suggested, if she is to discover she is an android, I would like her to hear it from me."

"I think that's a good idea," Dr. Crusher agreed, and shifted positions. Her right leg came up to join her left and Data noticed that the angle at which she held her hips had changed by at least seven degrees. His positronic net filed the observation with the rest of his pregnancy-related insight.

"You are an accomplished public speaker," Data offered. "You have great poise on stage; I do not think you should be nervous about the conference."

"I'm not-" Dr. Crusher protested.

"Then why do you appear to be suffering from anxiety?" Data wondered. He knew humans sometimes required repetition in order to voice their thoughts. "You are engaged in several behaviors that imply a state of mental unrest."

Shutting her eyes and lowering her head, Dr. Crusher balanced her elbows on the desk. She smiled weakly and rubbed her temples. "I don't want to leave the Enterprise," she admitted.

"You are only leaving the ship for a brief period of time," Data reminded her, surprised by both her admission and the emotions it suggested. "It is unnecessary to be concerned."

"I know, Data," she agreed as her eyes opened again. "It's an emotional response and those are rarely logical."

"Are you experiencing greater intensity in your emotional responses due to an increase in estrogen and progesterone?"

Her eyes flashed for a moment and Data realized that her sudden annoyance was an answer to his question. "If you were anyone else," she threatened, shaking her head. "It is difficult. I don't feel like myself. I don't respond to things the way I expect myself to."

"I believe that is a frequent complaint," he observed. "It has been many years since you were pregnant with Wesley."

Dr. Crusher raised an eyebrow, then smiled. Data had noticed that humans frequently had more than one response to his observations but he had yet to discern a pattern.

"Perhaps I've forgotten what it's like," she reminded herself. "I suppose so. I'm used to having a certain degree of control. My emotions are not something I like to allow free reign." The corner of her mouth twitched and her fingers toyed with her sleeve. Her fidgeting behaviors had increased with her pregnancy and Data made note to continue his awareness for posterity.

"I was so young then," Dr. Crusher finished with a shake of her head. "I never felt like I was going to crawl out of my skin."

Data tilted his head and appeared sympathetic. "You are indeed agitated."

"It's a couple days on a starbase," she tried to belittle her emotions but Data could see the discomfort in her face. "Brilliant scientific minds, the latest in medical research, time to think--"

Watching her rub her hand against her abdomen, Data tilted his head. "You do not seem as enthusiastic regarding the conference."

"Leaving the Enterprise is not very appealing to me," Dr. Crusher added. She thought for a moment and then waved him over to her side of the desk. Reaching for his hand, she brought it to her abdomen and held it tight against her skin.

"Remember when Geordi had Spot for a few days and you mentioned that your quarters were noticeably different with her absence?"

Data nodded, feeling the fluid-dampened vibration of the foetal movement through the layers of muscle and subcutaneous fat. Reminding her that he had a perfect memory of the event would not serve their conversation and he said nothing.

"My quarters on the starbase will have a noticeable difference," Dr. Crusher finished her explanation. "I haven't been apart from the captain since I became pregnant. When I was pregnant with Wesley, Jack and I were always apart, but this time it's been different. I've become accustomed to the captain's presence. Knowing he's not going to be in my quarters at the end of the day is disconcerting."

"Geordi told me Spot noticed my absence as well," Data ventured. "Her behavior did seem to indicate that was the case. I am certain the captain will be pleased when you return."

"I doubt he'll purr," Dr. Crusher teased darkly. "But, you never know." She glanced down at her stomach and touched his hand. "Can you feel her turning around?"

"Yes doctor," he answered. "I believe this is an appropriate activity level. I predict she will be quite healthy."

Her smile brightened and her shoulders relaxed. "I'm glad you can share this with me. The captain keeps trying but she's just not big enough yet."

"I would advise patience," Data suggested. "Though," he paused, "it may not be easy to convince the captain of that course of action."

"Thank you Data," Dr. Crusher's sigh was exaggerated. Her gaze turned to her desk and the pile of data padds. Data recognized she had work to do. "How did your reprogramming go?"

"Very well," he replied easily. "The subroutines have been added and they are integrating into her positronic matrix. She will reactivate soon."

"Will you keep in touch?" Dr. Crusher asked, leaning back in her chair and keeping her eyes on his face.

"I intend to," he answered. "I find the idea that I have family other than Lore agreeable. Dr. Tainer has developed an emotional attachment to me and I do not wish to take that from her."

"Write often," she smiled gently. "As a mother, I can tell you how important it is that you write. We like to hear everything. Especially about your love life."

Data began to protest that he had no love life when she held up a hand and grinned. "I know, you do not require companionship or reproduction. But they can both be quite agreeable." She reached for a padd and started tapping her way through it. "See you when I get back?"

"Indeed," he nodded, sensing her dismissal. "I wish you good luck with your presentation and a safe journey. The captain and the rest of the Enterprise will be pleased when you return."

Her expression remained optimistic as she returned to her work. Dr. Crusher sat straighter in her chair, her eyes were more focused and the soft smile on her face remained. He observed her for another moment before deciding that the captain's advice had again been correct. Emotional beings benefited from expressing their feelings and friendly exploration of them was often welcomed. Resolving to ask her what information she would like in his letters, Data returned to his mother's side to wait for her to regain consciousness.

The main level of Starbase 338 was full of people. The scientific conference was scheduled to begin the following day, and the percentage of blue uniforms in the crowd was much higher than normal. Usually Captain Jean-Luc Picard avoided crowds, but Beverly was excited about the Klingon restaurant.

The Klingon restaurant was on the entertainment level and they were making their slow way from the Enterprise along the string of shops. Jean-Luc remembered she liked chaos. Beverly was smiling and each time she found something fascinating, she'd drag him over. He found holding her hand as they walked indulgent because he would have felt uncomfortable with the affection on the Enterprise. Here, they were just two officers among many and the anonymity was strangely decadent.

Bemused by how varied the items that drew her attention were, Jean-Luc let his thoughts wander. Waiting for Beverly to return from a glittering Tellarite display of embroidered fabric, Jean-Luc startled when someone touched his shoulder. Beverly would have just grabbed his arm and the hand on his shoulder was too tentative.

"Well, it looks like someone leaves his ship occasionally after all," the female voice accused him playfully.

Turning around, Jean-Luc found himself looking straight at one of the blue uniformed figures he'd let blend into the background. She was smiling but he found her appearance so out of place that it took him a moment to regain his equilibrium. "Nella," he recognized in surprise. "I didn't expect to see you here."

She leaned in quickly to kiss him and he moved his face enough that her romantic kiss turned into a more formal set of kisses on either cheek.

"Captain," Nella made the word sound teasing. "I'm on the Bellerophon now. We're doing a graviton study of the Magnus Nebula."

"That's on the outer rim," he sighed and smiled thoughtfully at her. "Turning off your new captain's replicators in the middle of the night?"

"Every chance I get," Nella retorted, grinning. "She's easily placated with a good cup of tea."

"Most captains are," he joked back lightly. "Though, of course, we'll never admit it."

"It is good to see you," she answered as her smile deepened. "When I heard the Enterprise was coming I went looking for you. I thought you wouldn't bother to leave the ship and that I'd have to come up with some reason to come on board. Do you have time for a little music? I work with the most lovely violinist now and I think the three of us could--"

"Jean-Luc-" Beverly interrupted them from behind and her grip on his arm nearly turned him completely away from Nella. "You have to see this sample of ancient Tellarite tapestry they have on the back wall. Apparently it dates back to before their first contact with the Vulcans--" she stopped short.

Beverly rested one hand protectively on her stomach. Her blue eyes were gleaming but her lips were set thinly in a line.

"You remember each other, don't you? Commander Nella Darren, Doctor Beverly Crusher," Jean-Luc introduced formally. His stiffness slowly became more awkward.

Both women looked slightly dumbstruck and seemed equally incapable of speech. Nella's eyes dropped to the obvious swell of Beverly's belly in the black part of her uniform. Without her lab coat, it was clear she was pregnant. Jean-Luc didn't understand why she was so surprised.

His current lover recovered first. "Don't be silly," Beverly chided him. "We remember each other. You gave poor Nella quite a workout."

The acerbic remark cut Nella as she'd intended it to. "You healed it well. Please, let me apologize," she backpedaled. Nella's hazel eyes were bright and her face, though intimately familiar, was unreadable. "Captain, I didn't know you were with anyone. I didn't mean to intrude."

"You're not intruding," Beverly hurried to correct herself as she interrupted him. She regretted her harshness. He could read that in her face but Jean-Luc wasn't sure Nella could. Beverly's tongue escaped her more than it once had and it was an ongoing struggle to remain polite. "We're on our way to lunch and we'd be delighted if you joined us. Do you like gagh?"

Puzzled, Jean-Luc felt Beverly's hand slip into his. He hadn't noticed her behave jealously when he'd been seeing Nella a few months ago. He hadn't been paying attention then, and he wondered if she had been upset. The way she held his hand now, suggested she had been jealous. He decided part of it was simply hormonal. Her temper was a little shorter of late and her tongue had been sharper as well. It only followed that jealousy, however irrational, would be enhanced.

Nella also looked more hurt than he'd expected. He thought they'd parted as friends and Jean-Luc wanted to think that he would not have been upset if he'd seen her with another man. After all, it had been almost four months since Nella had left the Enterprise.

Thinking of time made him stop suddenly and Jean-Luc nearly dropped Beverly's hand in surprise. Adjusting for the time she'd skipped, Beverly was nearly twenty weeks pregnant. She carried the weight well. Even if Nella estimated she was less far along than she was, the dates were damning. For Beverly to be this far advanced in her pregnancy, conception would have occurred immediately after he and Nella had decided they couldn't serve together and be in a relationship.

Nella managed to smile politely and Jean-Luc was relieved Beverly's overture had been accepted. "Congratulations," she paused thoughtfully. "I guess you never have to send the CMO to fight firestorms."

"Nella," Jean-Luc shook his head. "Beverly and I-"

Beverly knew what was going on better than he did, and she squeezed his hand. "Have lunch with us," she suggested with a bright smile. "We can all catch up."

Jean-Luc wondered if Nella's curiosity would win out over her discomfort and was relieved when she nodded.

"I need to drop off my abstract for the conference," Nella pointed down the main level. "Perhaps I can meet you at the Klingon restaurant?"

Jean-Luc barely glanced at the menu and let Beverly order as he sat beside her on the bench. The Klingon restaurant was fairly quiet. Most of the stiff metal benches were unoccupied. The walls were black and red and Beverly had noticed the lights glinted off of his head. She didn't mention it.

He hadn't noticed the red lights, the torches in wall sconces, nor explained the Klingon script on the walls. Usually he translated alien texts immediately. Jean-Luc would fall into his eager student of the universe tone and explain anything alien with great enthusiasm. She started to worry when she ordered the bregit lung rare and Jean-Luc made no attempt to tease her. She reached for the metal pitcher of water and he caught her hand.

Holding it thoughtfully, he looked over at her. He had the apologetic stare that suggested he knew exactly how he was making her feel. "I love you," Jean-Luc said.

"I love you too," she replied, smiling. He continued to hold her hand, stroking the back of it. His fingers were warm and infinitely pleasant. "Have I told you that guilt makes you romantic?"

He smiled weakly in response. When his expression started to become apologetic, she sighed, "Come now, Jean-Luc, certainly you know I'm not jealous of Commander Darren."

"I'm not concerned that you are," Jean-Luc paused, smiling more broadly. Still holding her hand, he took a breath and started to relax. "I truly wasn't. I know that I have nothing to feel guilty about, but I feel as if I've wronged her."

The server set the wistan gagh between them and Beverly picked up a clump with her free hand. The slimy worms wriggled in her fingers and the smell of the dark sauce made her even hungrier. "So you agree that with inviting her to lunch?" she asked, swallowing the gagh whole. It wriggled in her throat and she shivered, delighted.

"This is an abrupt change from Vulcan cuisine," Jean-Luc teased her as he scooped up a handful of the worms.

Shrugging, Beverly felt her gagh settle in her stomach. "I wanted it," she explained. "Two months ago, the thought of this would have made me nauseated for the rest of the afternoon. Now it feels like the perfect lunch."

"The feel is more important than the taste, isn't it?" Jean-Luc teased as he stared down at the gagh. He waved over the server and ordered something called bahgol. The bitter scent of it carried across the table. It went well with the scent of gagh, but the next course was coming and she didn't bother to order anything else. Even though he was smiling and engaged in eating, he was still troubled. Knowing him as she did, Beverly knew he'd be troubled for several days.

Patting his hand, she passed him some more gagh and scooted closer to him on the bench. He might have stiffened on the Enterprise, but his responsibility to decorum was lessened on the starbase. Taking advantage of his more relaxed state, she spoiled herself with affection. Winding her arm into his, Beverly smiled reassuringly. His arm was pleasantly warm as she held it against her stomach. Their daughter twisted, a sensation slightly more intense than that of the gagh. Beverly instinctively held him a little tighter.

"I wish you could feel this," she sighed, resting her head on his shoulder. "She's stronger than the gagh now. Last week, it was about even, but this week she's definitely stronger."

"Soon," he repeated her mantra, rolling his eyes a little at his own impatience. Beverly laughed and she felt the warmth of his hand resting his hand on her stomach. "Much sooner than I think."

"Just think how impatient you'd be if you'd had to wait the whole five months?" she taunted him. Watching the door, Beverly grabbed another handful of gagh. The thick red sauce ran down her fingers.

"On a Klingon ship," Jean-Luc explained, handing the dark cloth napkin to her for her hands. "They'd never have napkins." He wiped the corner of her mouth and she felt him start to relax. Glancing at the walls, he pointed to a passage of Klingon text scrawled directly across from them. "'Blades may stop a beating heart, tearing it asunder. Once shards of bleeding flesh, love makes a heart beat though death itself were inconsequential. Clinging to life with clawed hands--'"

Laughing, she picked up the bread and tore off a piece. "It's love poetry?"

"'Desperate for survival, it beats unceasing. Only honor can make it whole,'" he finished. "Some of the most romantic in Klingon literature. 'negQov nga'chuq', part of the much longer opera of Kahless and Lukara. The shattering and mending of a heart is a common theme in Klingon romances."

"Complete with bloody battles against hundreds of foes?" she teased and licked sauce from her fingers.

"They nearly died," he replied. Jean-Luc settled back and started contemplating his tea. "Threat of imminent death can do wonders for a relationship. Especially a Klingon one."

The dry statement was almost a joke, but the truth of it sank into her heart. When faced with losing him, Beverly had been willing to reorder her entire life. For some reason, she needed to be backed into a corner before she could face how much she depended on his presence. Jack hadn't been like that; she'd loved him and rarely doubted her feelings. It wasn't that she couldn't trust Jean-Luc. He'd proved at every opportunity that he loved her. He accepted the child as more than a responsibility, possibly even better than she had.

Nella Darren kept her hands behind her back as she entered the restaurant, as if she'd been summoned to something unpleasant. Beverly waved her over and felt Jean-Luc stiffen slightly. His left hand stayed on her belly and she squeezed his wrist.

"Thank you for joining us," Beverly offered. "The gagh is fantastic. I don't know if you're fond of Klingon food--"

"It's always an adventure," Nella paused with her hands on the back of the chair. "We don't have to--"

Beverly looked from Jean-Luc's overly composed expression to Nella's stiff smile and rolled her eyes. "There were temporal factors," she sighed, looking down at her own swollen belly. "Commander Darren, Jean-Luc and I became involved weeks after you left the Enterprise. All wrongdoing was mine, so both of you can stop acting so ridiculously polite. Sit," she ordered the other woman. "Jean-Luc," Beverly continued as she turned her eyes to him. "I am more than happy to give Commander Darren the full explanation."

"I shouldn't have presumed--" Nella protested. She still hadn't sat down and Beverly stared at her coolly.

"Nella," Beverly pointed at the chair. "Sit, please."

Sitting down, Nella relaxed slightly. She accepted the dark bread Jean-Luc passed to her. "I didn't think you wanted children."

Jean-Luc smiled faintly and Beverly was surprised as she listened to his answer, "It seems I hid it rather well from many, including myself."

Reaching into the gagh, Nella wound it around her fingers. Before she dropped the squirming worms into her mouth, she looked from Beverly to Jean-Luc. "Were you both trapped somewhere? Some kind of dimensional anomaly? Those time pockets you ran into with the Romulans?"

"Do you read all of the Enterprise's mission reports?" Jean-Luc wondered before Beverly could answer any of Nella's questions.

"Only the interesting ones," Nella teased. "Though for some reason, nearly every report I can find on the Enterprise is interesting. Some ships have all the luck." She peered at the dish of pekreg claw the waiter set in front of her. The roast meat had a rich, spicy scent to it that mixed with the deeper stench of blood. The dark-haired scientist looked down at it thoughtfully. "I guess you don't suffer from nausea?"

"Not anymore," Beverly quipped darkly.

Jean-Luc grimaced sympathetically and touched her thigh beneath the table. His guilt was unwarranted, but she found the feeling behind it soothing. Being off the Enterprise made it easier for him to be affectionate. Knowing they were going to be separated for a week made the contact more bittersweet. It had been months since she'd slept alone and Beverly disliked the idea. She'd had practice saying goodbye to Jack; leaving Jean-Luc now felt distinctly odd.

"I assume it is a good story?" Nella asked patiently. She studied the menu written on the wall and brought her eyes back to Beverly's. "You certainly weren't pregnant the last time I saw you."

"No," Beverly shook her head. "I only became pregnant six weeks ago."

Beverly took a sip of her tea before she started. Beginning with the explanation of Jean-Luc's disappearance made her sound a little less desperate. Rescuing the captain was a vital part of the story, and Nella listened sympathetically. If it reminded the scientist of her short relationship with Jean-Luc, Beverly saw no sign of it in her face.

She wouldn't have to mention why she'd become pregnant when she presented her findings to the conference. She would be explaining her experience to scientists from all over the Federation in a few days and focusing on the medical fact took her feelings out of it. Temporal acceleration of fetal development would be of use to the medical community; professionally she was pleased she could advance the field.

Nella was a scientist and she listened attentively as Beverly explained how she'd manufactured her pregnancy. Relieved that it was relatively simple to explain, she relaxed into the medical terminology. To her surprise, Jean-Luc seemed to be paying attention. Beverly thought the story would have bored him by now. He and Nella ate while she talked, and by the time she finished, they were ordering more.

"Parenthood suits you," Nella remarked, helping herself to more tea. "There's a serenity in you both."

"Thank you," Jean-Luc offered sincerely. "It certainly has been and promises to be an enlightening experience."

Beverly felt Nella's eyes on her as she swallowed some of the spiced meat. Their shared glance was quiet but Beverly thought she understood. Jean-Luc's heart was of great importance to both of them. Her relationship with him, however unorthodox, had flourished while Nella's had ended. There were a multitude of reasons, but perhaps the simplest was history. Everything Nella and Jean-Luc had needed to learn about each other, Beverly and Jean-Luc had already known.

Cleared of the suspicion of infidelity, Jean-Luc relaxed considerably. He sat back into the bench and explained the history of the food they'd ordered. Then the conversation shifted to Nella's new assignment, something that required little input and allowed Beverly to eat.

"I thought the Bellerophon was a good choice when I approved your transfer," he reached for the pekreg claw and tore into the flesh with his hands. "Being at the far reaches of explored space is quite an adventure."

"The Bellerophon is Intrepid class," Nella sighed. "We're fast and the opportunities for research are endless but it's not Enterprise. My lab is tiny. We also only have one holodeck." She licked her fingers and smiled. "Your explorations have been more personal."

"It's been enlightening," Jean-Luc replied calmly, smiling softly at Beverly. She shared his gaze and smiled back. Reaching over, she cleaned dark sauce from his lips and nodded in agreement.

Nella stopped plucking spines from something Jean-Luc had ordered called kuch'gocNan. She lifted her eyes from her lunch and paused. "I suppose you're not mentioning the specifics of your condition at the conference?"

"How did you know I was presenting?" Beverly wondered.

Nella finished for her, "'The Stabilizing Effects of Eichner Radiation on Human Tissues in Temporal Flux', on Friday, 1500?"

Tilting her head in slight surprise, Beverly nodded.

"I haven't read it," the other woman insisted cheerfully. "And your explanation earlier was much more interesting. Medical science has never been one of my strong suits. There aren't enough equations to hold my interest."

Snapping her fingers, Beverly remembered where she'd seen her name. It had been bothering her most of dinner and she'd finally remember. Turning her eyes to Jean-Luc, she watched his expression turn chagrined. "'You're presenting on Saturday? Something with gravity-nascent-something-galaxies?"

"'Gravimetric Wave Input and Fractal Particle Detection of Nascent Galaxies,'" Nella explained, surprise lighting her face. "Most of the medical presenters don't bother to attend the dry side of things in stellar sciences."

"I'm afraid that's my doing," Jean-Luc interjected. "I read your paper and was intrigued by it. I then forced her to listen to me ramble on about particle detection fields."

"I've wondering if I should attend your presentation and take notes for him," Beverly added, smiling indulgently at her partner. Shaking her head, she took Jean-Luc's offering of tea and tried a sip. The warm liquid ran down her throat. It was oddly light, and reminded her faintly of grain and sharp citrus.

"With this," Jean-Luc murmured, tearing the meat of the pekreg claw from the dark cartilage and pressing it into Beverly's hand. "Try them together," he suggested before he turned back to the conversation. "I saw you're sharing the paper with Lieutenant Detel?"

"Yes, he's quite good with the mathematical modeling," Nella answered warmly. "I think he'll be a fine head of stellar sciences on his own some day."

The rest of lunch was a friendly discussion about fostering junior officers and the importance of continuing professional development. Beverly didn't get to spend much time debating the legitimacy of scientific theory, or discussing how to train a new chief medical officer for another ship. Occasionally, she became so involved in the stresses of her position that she forgot other people across the fleet dealt with the same chaos. By the time Nella stood to go, the awkwardness from before was completely gone.

"Thank you for lunch," Nella said, warmly. "Jean-Luc, keep up your music. Your little Kataanian piece will make a lovely lullaby." She studied his face and smiled gently. "Keep the Enterprise in one piece. I'd like to get another crack at her laboratories, someday.

"They'll be there," Jean-Luc assured. "Give my best to Captain Manayah, will you?"

"I will. Though, when I admit I saw you, I'm afraid you'll be fueling the gossip mill on the Bellerophon for a few days. I am happy for you," Nella nodded her head at Beverly. "Both of you."

"Good bye," Beverly softened her tone and smiled. "Good luck."

It didn't take long enough to walk Beverly to her temporary quarters. He'd wanted it to take the rest of the afternoon, but he didn't have that luxury. He only had until 1430, when the transfer of the cargo and new shuttlecraft would be complete. She only had the one suitcase and she'd refused his offer to carry it.

She set it down on the chair and waved him over with a finger. "You can see the Enterprise," Beverly pointed towards it as he slipped his arm around her back. He rested his hand on her ribs, just above her waist. He could smell her hair as she turned towards him. He was going to miss that.

Beverly's forehead touched his cheek. "Three days," she sighed.

"Three days is an extremely short period of time," he reminded her. The Enterprise was docked on the outer ring and she turned in space with the station.

"Jack was gone for months at a time." Beverly reached around for the hand on her back and held it. "The first time I counted down and it just made things worse, so the next time I tried to ignore it. I studied, I spent time with my friends, eventually I even took extra classes."

"All that extra coursework on radiation and virology?" he remembered. There had been long letters that sounded more like notes on her textbooks than love notes to her husband. Jack put up with them by sending overly flowery letters in response. Jean-Luc had even helped him look up properly ornate lines of prose. This was only three days. "Your GPA actually went up while you were pregnant, didn't it?"

Beverly nodded, "I needed to be busy."

Chuckling softly, Jean-Luc let her pull his hand around to her stomach. The motion brought her closer and he felt her relax against him. Her body molded itself to his and he was close enough to kiss her neck. The skin was warm beneath his lips and he allowed himself to enjoy it.

"I will miss you," her voice was soft and she released as she turned to face him. Beverly's hand ran down his chest and rested on his heart. When they were face to face, leaving her became that much more poignant. His apprehension was still foolish. Three days was no time at all, except this was the first time he was leaving her and the first time Jean-Luc needed to promise to come back.

For nearly two months, his books had moved around their quarters, most of his meals had been shared and he'd listened to her hum while she got dressed in the morning. Jean-Luc had been part of a whole, a family unit, in a way he hadn't been since childhood. He enjoyed the simple routines, the sound of her in the shower and the knowledge that their bed was their sanctuary. It would be lonely without her.

Loneliness wasn't making three days appear to be an eternity. The emotion that made it difficult for either of them to really look at each other was deeper and more painful. Jack had died out in space on a simple mission. Saying goodbye was unavoidable. Separation inevitably came with the uniform but it didn't make it any easier. Holding her hands in his voiced what he'd been unable to say.

"I'm sure you'll be both enlightening and engaging at the conference," he promised. Jean-Luc watched her eyes dart from his face to the window. "I've certainly enjoyed hearing you speak in the past."

"Is that your version of break a leg?" she teased. Her smile quavered but she managed to hold it firm.

"I love you," he said, watching her smile fade.

"I hate saying goodbye," Beverly admitted, shaking her head. "And you know that."

Lifting her hands, he studied the fine bones and the faint pattern of veins beneath her skin. "I'm afraid it won't be the last time."

"Some first times are more difficult than others," her voice was cooling and he felt her pulling away. He'd been expecting her to disconnect and it took Jean-Luc a moment to decide the best way to bring her back.

"'Together, they gazed upon the empty bodies of hundreds of Klingons dead that day,'" he quoted the old opera, distracting her with the unfamiliar words from Klingon literature. "'When Kahless took the hand of the Lady Lukara, their flesh was slick with the blood of their enemies. He lifted her hand and held it out across the bloodied plain of Qam-Chee. 'These are those who dared to stand against us,' Kahless cried to the heavens and the very skies trembled for the power of two Klingon hearts, beating in unison, is unmatched even by the gods."

Her eyes softened and the chill that accompanied her retreat faded from her face. "And they claim not to be romantic," Beverly murmured, leaning forward to kiss him slowly. "I may not be Klingon, but I do love you enough to make a few gods shiver."

Laughing softly with her, he cupped her cheek. "I'll save the whole opera for when you get back," he promised, squeezing her hands before he let them go. "We'll watch it together."

"Screeching dissonance and pounding drums?" she tilted her head thoughtfully. "Sounds romantic. You'll remind the galley to make Worf's cake? I'd hate for him to end up with a replicated one."

"Yes, the cake, I'll remember," he nodded quickly. "You'll take notes for me at the conference?" he reminded her, heading for the door.

"Yes, and I won't crash the shuttle, be kidnapped by Romulans, or get lost on my way back to the ship," Beverly promised sardonically, following him to the door. "The cake," she repeated before he was out into the corridor.

Straightening his uniform tunic, Jean-Luc paused a moment before he walked back down towards the Enterprise. Lines of Klingon opera kept him company in his mind all the way to the air lock.
Chapter 10: counterpoint variations
1st Variation

Standing behind her as Beverly brought out the cake, Jean-Luc listened to the voices around him and picked out the individual tones of his crew. Deanna, Geordi, Data and Will were all around him, but he couldn't help following Beverly with his eyes. He reminded himself again that he should try harder to control his feelings when he was around her. She'd turned him down after Kesprytt and the last thing he wanted was to jeopardize their friendship.

Except, for some unknown reason, tonight she kept smiling in his direction. Beverly had remained within an arm's reach of him the entire evening, almost as if her decision to remain friends, to keep a distance between them, had been nullified. Beverly stayed near him. As they listened to Worf recount his victories at the bat'leth tournament, he could have touched her. She'd returned from the conference on Starbase 338 in a good mood and as the night wore on, Jean-Luc started to think she was glowing. Perhaps it was the party, or simply that the conference had gone well; whatever the cause, something felt different.

He'd intended to lean over and ask her when she suddenly faded. Beverly took half a step back from the circle, shaking her head while Geordi asked if she was all right. She stared at Jean-Luc blankly as he caught her arm.

"When did the painting change?" she asked. Beverly dropped her head into her hands, taking the chair Worf offered. "I swear it was different," she repeated when he touched her shoulder.

"It's always been this way," Jean-Luc answered gently. She grabbed his hand, startling him with her desire for comfort.

"It had more blue," she trailed off, still unconvinced, "I must be tired."

"It's a long trip by shuttle alone," he rationalized for her. "Would you like me to escort you to sickbay?"

"No," her response was adamant. "I'm fine." Beverly sighed and softened her shoulders. Eyes closed, she rubbed her fingers in slow circles on her temples. "I will let you walk me to home," she finished.

"Headache?" he asked softly after they bid Worf goodnight and headed for the turbolift.

She shrugged weakly and accepted the arm he offered without protest. Beverly wound her hand around his forearm and his concern deepened.

"Just happened all of a sudden," she explained, "everything grayed out. Except Data's painting, that stayed pretty damn bright."

Jean-Luc chuckled dryly and stepped into the lift. "Deck nine," he told the computer. "I hope the conference wasn't too hard on you."

"No, it was lovely," she answered dully. "I got to hear Dr. Wade and Dr. Roget present their research and the rumors have already started that they'll be up for the Carrington Award next year."

"Isn't Dr. Wade over a century?" he asked politely trying to remember if he knew anything about Roget.

"Still a dynamic public speaker," Beverly sighed, closing her eyes again and shaking her head. "I'm sorry for the inconvenience."

"Not at all," he brought them to a halt in front of her quarters. "Here you are."

Beverly looked from him to the door and stopped short. Her blue eyes darted from the door to his face and she blinked twice, as if trying to clear her vision.

"These aren't my quarters," she murmured, digging her hand into her lower back and shaking her head. "What's going on?"

"Of course these are your quarters," Jean-Luc insisted, surprised by the confusion on Beverly's face. He knew she hadn't been feeling well, but he'd thought it was simply exhaustion. "Your name is on the door. Room 2133. You've had these quarters for three years. We had breakfast in them right before you left for Starbase 338."

Beverly shook her head and he noticed her lip whitening as she bit it. "I don't understand," she answered, shaking her head again. Her forehead tightened. "You and I, we share quarters, room 3601." She pointed in the direction of his quarters and shook her head. "Jean-Luc, I'm not crazy."

"I didn't insinuate that you were," he reached for her shoulder and squeezed it. "Maybe we should go to sickbay. Perhaps let Doctor Selar take a look at you."

Beverly shook her head and tapped the door control. "I just need to--" she stopped speaking as she entered, whatever she was going to say forgotten.

He followed her in, recognizing nothing out of the ordinary as they looked around the room. "Is it possible you were exposed to an alien compound on the starbase? Maybe a virus at one of the lectures?" His attempt at logic only seemed to make her more frustrated. Her eyebrows narrowed and she glared at him.

Pacing the room, she stared at her belongings in exasperation. "These are supposed to be in your quarters," she pointed at a set of Andorian candlesticks. "This plant sits next to your desk," she indicated the large plant with pink flowers by her bedroom door. "My clothes should be in your closet--" she stopped, standing in front of the mirror.

Following her eyes, Jean-Luc hoped he would not make her more agitated by staring. Her uniform was tight across the chest and something was strange about the black patch over her stomach. That also appeared too tight. Beverly's hand dropped to her belly and he realized there was a swelling in her figure that had been absent three days ago when she'd left.

"Jean-Luc," her tone had switched completely, anger whisked away as if it had been blown out like a candle. Her voice was soft instead of angry and he wondered if Beverly was going to fade out again. "We need to go to sickbay." He barely caught her arm as she turned abruptly and dragged him to the door.

"What's wrong?" he asked as they hurried to the turbolift. The slow pace they'd taken on the way to her quarters had been forgotten as she nearly jogged towards the lift.

"Deck twelve," she snapped at the lift. Beverly's hand right hand tapped the wall in frustration and her left hovered near her stomach, almost as if she was afraid to touch it. "I need to check something." She wasn't going to finish her thought and he didn't want to pressure her. Beverly was biting her lip and the skin around her eyes was too tight. Her fingers drummed against the metal of the lift, tapping out an anxious pattern.

"What happened when I arrived back on the Enterprise?" she asked with manufactured calm. "When you met me in the shuttle bay?"

Wishing he could alleviate her unease, Jean-Luc answered as completely as he could, "I asked you about the conference. You mentioned running into Lt. Commander Darren. You told me Doctor McCoy had submitted a paper on the effects of transporters on the natural course of aging of Starfleet officers. You were thrilled you got to see him speak. We talked about Worf's party. You gave me a hard time about the cake--"

Her wan smile cut through the ice coating her distress for a moment. "You remembered it."

"Wouldn't want to face your wrath," he teased, hoping for another smile. Beverly's expression still seemed grim, but her frozen eyes were starting to melt. The panic she'd been trying to hide from him was fading. "What is it?"

"You didn't kiss me," she smiled weakly as she led the way to sickbay.

"No," Jean-Luc didn't understand but he kept his smile. "Was I supposed to?"

Another weak smile, this time a tad brighter, was the reward for his tenacity. "Jean-Luc," she pointed to her office as they entered sickbay. "I remember landing the shuttle, opening the hatch and walking directly into your arms. I teased you for not having better things to do than meet my shuttle and you kissed me to shut me up."

Raising his eyebrows, he watched as she ran a medical tricorder over herself. The anxiety in her eyes faded, leaving them blue again as relief flooded her face.

"Beverly," he straightened his uniform jacket and watched her smile as she scanned him. "I can assure you that kissing you is something I would vividly remember."

"I don't think you kissed me," she shook her head and studied the tricorder. "Jean-Luc Picard did, just not the one standing with me." She tucked a stray lock of hair behind ear and smiled, suddenly as pleased with herself as she had been distraught a moment ago.

"You just--"

"My physical condition doesn't match the Enterprise's records," Beverly reported, suddenly confident. "You and I chose chocolate and Worf's cake was red velvet. My uniform doesn't fit, my quarters are wrong-- either everything on the ship is wrong, or somehow I'm in the wrong place." She leaned against the desk for a moment, hanging on to the edge with white knuckles. Beverly dropped her eyes before lifting her gaze to his. Her grim smile almost made him anxious. "Jean-Luc, there's something I need to tell you."

He crossed his arms and chose the light hearted response. "You think Worf wanted chocolate and I picked the wrong cake?"

Beverly smirked for a moment and moved to stand beside him. Her expression had softened to something nearly apologetic. "I'm pregnant," she announced, showing him the tricorder.

If she had handed it to him fully, instead of keeping it in her hand, Jean-Luc would have dropped it. It took him a moment to put together what he was seeing. The indicators on the bottom seemed normal, but the tricorder showed a fuzzy blue image of a human fetus.

"Nineteen weeks," she explained gently. Beverly's gaze remained on his face. Something bright shone in her eyes. "In direct contradiction of my medical records."

"Is it-" he didn't know what to say. Jean-Luc was surprised words made it out of his mouth at all. His throat felt numb and the tricorder might as well have been written in ancient Andorian.

"She-" Beverly supplied quickly, "is very healthy."

"I don't understand," he stammered as he reached for the tricorder's image with fingers that threatened to tremble. Pulling back his hand, he straightened his uniform. Jean-Luc swallowed hard. A thought taunted him before it erupted like ice into his stomach. "I'm the father?"

Nodding slowly, she confirmed his suspicions with a heavy sigh, "I don't know if I should congratulate you or apologize."

"Beverly--" Normally he wouldn't have allowed himself the contact, but Jean-Luc couldn't stop himself and reached for her hand.

Grabbing it tightly, she maintained her hold and he reminded himself to return her trust. "I don't belong here," she shook her head, running her free hand anxiously through her hair. That hand moved to her sleeve and tugged it. "I don't know what's going on but this isn't my Enterprise."

"Perhaps you should sit," he suggested. Trying to bring his thoughts out of warp speed and back into normal space, Jean-Luc studied her.

"I'm fine-"

"Beverly, please-"

"Jean-Luc!" Her tone sharpened, her eyes narrowed and her hand flew up to stop him. "I'm fine," she assured him, dropping her hold on his hand in exasperation. "I just need to get out of this universe and go home. Get Deanna down here if you want, she can tell you I'm not crazy."

"I didn't--"

"Of course not," she snapped, biting her lip. Still staring at her dumbfounded, Jean-Luc watched her force a weak smile. She pressed her hand into her forehead. "I'm sorry."

From all the years he'd known her, he was accustomed to both her temper and her sharp, nearly frigid, emotional control. He'd observed her struggle with both on several occasions, but this was different. Beverly wasn't herself and he was starting to realize the drain being pregnant had on her. Her lips were set too tightly. The place where she kept her fingers pressed on her forehead implied a headache. He watched her for a moment, then felt her cool hand return to his wrist.

Letting her fingers find their way into his own, he nodded to her. "It's all right," he promised. "I have no idea what's happening, but if you're right, you need to go back to your own universe and I certainly need my own Chief Medical Officer back."

Tilting his head up towards the ceiling's comm system instead of his badge, the captain asked the computer, "Picard to Data."

"Data here, sir," the android responded quickly. Jean-Luc could still hear the voices of the party in the background.

"I am sorry to pull you away from the party," he began. "I'm afraid I have a bit of a mystery and could use your assistance in Sickbay."

"Of course, sir, on my way," Data said over the link.

Data's unquestioning efficiency was calming to both of them and she sat down in the chair behind her desk. Trying to mull the situation over in his mind, he replicated a cup of tea for both of them and took the seat across from her. "May I ask you a personal question?"

She nodded absently, shifting position in her chair twice before she settled and noticed the cup of tea. "About us?" Beverly asked coolly.

He recognized her disconnection. She was bringing the wall down to protect herself, and he couldn't help wondering how disconcerted his counterpart must also be. Jean-Luc was concerned for his friend, the absent Beverly Crusher who belonged in his timeline. The idea that some version of himself was missing both lover and unborn child made him uneasy. That sensation was an odd combination of sympathy, responsibility for her safe return and, though he hated admitting it, jealousy.

Turning his attention back to Beverly, he smiled shyly. Talking about her life might ease some of her tension as well as assuage his curiosity. "How long have we been-" he paused, searching for the right words.

"-More than good friends?" she finished for him. Beverly took a sip of her tea and then stared at the liquid. "The baby wasn't planned," she admitted, "we were both surprised, in different ways. I didn't realize how much I wanted a child and the timing of when it happened was hardest for you. It was a bit of a shock for everyone-" smiling thinly, she ran her finger around the rim of her cup. "Wesley was a little concerned," she continued, "Nana just keeps giving us a hard time. Now that you've told your brother, Robert has started giving you parenting advice--" she stopped, suddenly apologetic.

He grinned sheepishly and her smile returned. "I don't know how I'd take that." They continued to talk, discussing the differences in their timelines. Jean-Luc's curiosity was raised when she related a far different account of Kesprytt. He had been wondering if he'd gotten to experience the trials of pregnancy through their implants and was almost relieved to discover Will and Deanna had gone instead.

"You didn't really get off easy," she promised, looking up as Data entered sickbay. "I'm terrible company when I'm ill."

"I have heard that about doctors," Jean-Luc agreed dryly as he stood. He could feel the sting of her gaze on his back and was glad he'd interpreted Beverly correctly. Even if she wasn't his Beverly, he still knew her.

Data nodded once to both of them. "Captain," he began, "how may I be of assistance?"

"We have an odd situation," Jean-Luc replied, stopping when Beverly cut him off.

"Data," she waved the android over to her, took his hand and placed it on the slight swell of her abdomen. The android's gold eyes widened. Had he been human, Jean-Luc would have called it as shock.

"Fascinating," Data murmured as he stared down at his hand. "Doctor, you did not appear to be pregnant when you left for Starbase 338."

"I was," Beverly insisted as she released his hand. "Your me, the other me, whoever is supposed to be here, wasn't." She sighed, crossing her arms over her chest as Data released her and reached for the medical tricorder on the desk. "What could make me shift into this universe while not shifting my uniform?"

Jean-Luc glanced at her chest, feeling slightly guilty as he did, and then caught the look of mild frustration crossing her face.

"This one is tight," she complained with a shrug. "I had mine altered," she replied as if he had asked. "I hate maternity uniforms."

Memory brought back an old conversation he'd had with Jack, back when uniforms were solid red and the heavy jackets were modified to accommodate pregnant officers. Beverly had hated her maternity uniform with a passion and Jack had related her litany of complaints.

"Are they better than the last ones?" he asked, trying to recall what maternity uniforms looked like.

"The current maternity uniforms are like wearing a dress uniform all the time," Beverly grumbled, narrowing her eyes.

"Captain, doctor," Data interjected. "There is a quantum flux in Doctor Crusher's cellular RNA, it is also present in the developing fetus."

Beverly set her lips tightly and nodded. He could sense her relief but watched as she continued fidgeting with her sleeve. "What does that mean?"

"I do not know," Data reported. "I will have to analyze the readings. Captain, it will take some time."

"Thank you," Jean-Luc responded. Turning to Beverly, he tried to force his heightened sense of responsibility back down into the pit of his stomach. His Beverly didn't take well to being hovered over, though it was occasionally necessary to ensure she was conscious of her own best interests.

"I hope a morning briefing will be acceptable?" he studied her face while he making the request. "It's late, and you've traveled a long way today."

"Starbase 338 isn't that far," she insisted, but she nodded. Rising to meet him, Beverly gave him a view of the swell of her belly in profile.

Jean-Luc forced himself not to stare, but he couldn't believe he'd missed it on the way to her quarters. The Beverly who had left for the conference, his Beverly, was definitely gone, replaced by a doppelganger who was carrying his child. In the last fifteen minutes, he'd become a father. That new sense of responsibility reverberated through him, changing his universe.

He had avoided serious emotional entanglements most of his life. He'd left Jenice, let Miranda carry on with her life and Phillipa had damaged his trust and his heart more seriously than he had let himself admit at the time. For many years, he'd wondered if his infatuation with Beverly was just another way to remain apart. Wanting a woman he would never allow himself to pursue kept him safe.

Once they saw each other daily again, Jean-Luc had realized that Beverly was more than a ghost or a method of self-isolation. As they grew closer, he'd felt again how deeply he loved her. His feelings for her became as much of a companion as she was. Beverly and his love for her filled his days and gave him a precious escape from the captaincy. Their meals and moments together were highlights of his life. It was as close to a marriage as he expected to have and he was mostly content.

Kesprytt had taunted him with more than that. Offering him a glimpse into her soul, the links between them had showed him how much she cared for him. Daring hope for something else, even for the brief period of time before she'd reminded him she wasn't ready, he'd found new ideas invading his predictable life. He'd never told her that he had come to know that he wanted children, that having them with her was an ideal circumstance.

Putting his own thoughts aside, Jean-Luc knew his Beverly needed him to keep a cool head and bring her home. The other version of him needed his child back. As his mind considered what that life would be like, Jean-Luc realized he hadn't noticed a wedding band and wondered if she wore one. It was possible they weren't married. A child might have been an easier risk than having a husband again. The more he dwelled on the idea, the more it made sense that she would be comfortable having a baby but not being his wife.

Sneaking a clandestine look at her, Jean-Luc let himself feel the thrill of knowing part of him was within her. If the other him thought as he did, he understood. Marriage was pleasant, but not a priority. If she were his concern, Beverly and the baby would be what mattered to him.

Jean-Luc's thoughts carried him in silence through the turbolift ride to deck nine. When the doors opened, neither of them moved immediately and he felt her tense as he stepped out. The tension coiled into her neck and made the movement of her fingers more urgent. When they passed his door, he stopped and stared at it before he looked at her. Beverly stopped at his side and gave him a curious look.

"I know I'm not--" he stopped.

"Not my Jean-Luc," she finished for him. "Don't feel as if you--"

He waved her silent and tried again, "perhaps you'd like to come in for a cup of tea?"

Beverly's expression moved through several variations of exhaustion, confusion and dark humor. Her eyes remained the same, bright and astonishingly vulnerable. Taking comfort from the way her gaze never left his, Jean-Luc smiled. "I assume you still drink tea in your universe."

"And the two of you are close, you and Lwaxana?" he asked with a raised eyebrow. Beverly's empty tea cup sat in front of her and he leaned forward to fill it. Unlike his friend, who typically sat across from him, this version of Beverly sat on the couch next to him. She touched his arm frequently as she told her stories of her universe. The level of contact appeared perfectly normal to her, she even solicited more by leaving his hands on her lap. Jean-Luc realized how ordinary and comfortable being that tactile could be.

"I know how it sounds," Beverly answered, extending her hand to accept the teacup. She waited for him to add cream before she sat back, free hand on her stomach. "I suppose in a way we needed each other. For all her apparent dislike of primitive vocal communication, she loves to gossip and tell me about her garden."

He watched her blow across the surface of her tea. "I didn't know her interests included plants that weren't part of Betazoid fashion," he wondered, remembering a certain vine dress that had caused a scene at his counselor's betrothal dinner.

Beverly smiled softly, setting down her tea before she leaned her head on her hand. Her hair fell down along the top of the sofa and he tried to decide if it was longer.

"We have a few things in common," she continued, eyes away from him. "We've raised children alone, lost our husbands to Starfleet, fell in love again--" She abruptly turned back to him, shaking her head and reaching for his arm apologetically. "I'm sorry."

"It's all right," Jean-Luc promised her as a reflex. Feeling suddenly exposed, he covered her hand with his and squeezed. Reminding himself that she hadn't had the conversation where she informed him she wasn't ready to explore their feelings and it was certainly not how this Beverly felt, he searched for words. "In my universe, you and I shared an intense experience on Kesprytt, one that revealed our feelings for each other."

"And I decided it wasn't worth the risk?"

He felt her take both of his hands into hers and stared down at them before he met her eyes. "You thought we should be afraid," he answered softly. "I haven't pursued you. We're still friends, we share breakfast nearly every day."

Beverly's cool finger pressed his lips, silencing him. "But that's not what you want, is it?"

She studied him, peering into his eyes as if she could find the one thing that was different. "I know her fairly well, if she's anything like me, she's terrified. Jean-Luc, you could make her happy in a way she's afraid to even contemplate. Everything in her life is incredible right now. Her career, Wesley, you; everything is better than she could hope it to be. The last time she felt this secure about life, it self-destructed around her ears and she wound up hiding from everything in private practice in North America."

"Walker brought you back," he remembered, suddenly aware of how close her lips were to his.

"Walker brought me back into Starfleet," she corrected, lowering her hand from his lips to his chin. "I didn't feel 'back' until I was on the Enterprise."

"I didn't know that--"

Beverly chuckled dryly, leaned forward as if she meant to kiss him, then simply patted his cheek. "I'm afraid there might always be a few things you don't know about me," she teased.

Again, he wondered if she was going to kiss him, she was only centimeters away. This Beverly, just like his own, seemed to be able to look right through him. With his eyes on her face, the moment was eerily similar to the last time he'd almost kissed her. This time he felt different. She wasn't going to leave and he wasn't sure how he would handle that.

Unfolding herself with a sigh, she dragged herself to her feet, rested both of her hands on her back and looked at him. "Mind if I use your toilet?"

"My quarters are your quarters," he joked and was rewarded with a weak smile.

"Well, they are supposed to be," she said, keeping the smile. She dug her hands into her back, rubbing the sore muscles there. "Don't switch universes on me."

In her absence, his mind drifted as he stared out at the stars. There was something about her that tantalized him. Beverly usually captivated the romantic part of his mind, lately to the point of distraction, and this version of her held him even more spellbound. She was softer, as if some of her emotional control had been filed away. He wondered if he could blame hormones or if their relationship had allowed her to relax. No matter the reason, he was fascinated.

His interest left the metallic taste of guilt in his mouth. He'd dealt with that before, burying his feelings for years while she'd been married to Jack. This was different; now the other man was himself. Some version of him that had the great privilege of sharing his life and his bed with her. Imagining her legs entangled with his, Jean-Luc felt a stab of irrational jealousy. Her cool hand against the back of his neck shocked him out of his thoughts.

"Are you trying to decide what you'll do with me if you can't send me home?" she asked, settling into the sofa next to him.

Turning back from the stars outside, he startled when he looked at Beverly. She'd raided his closet. She'd removed her uniform and she was wearing his clothes. She'd chosen some of his favorites: the short-sleeved green top was something he wore riding, his beige robe he wore nearly every night and the loose grey pajama pants had been with him for years.

Beverly's curious expression faded abruptly and she realized what she'd doneinto a small smile. "I raided your closet." She glanced down at the shirt covering her chest and then up at him. "That uniform's tight, and my stomach itched. I didn't think you'd mind. "

"No," he waved quickly, then took a beat to get used to the idea. "I shouldmight have offered. It simply didn't occur to me. I'm afraid it's been awhile since someone else wore my clothing."

She pulled the robe tighter around her chest and sighed, "I started borrowing your things last week. I've been too busy to get down to the ship's stores and expand my wardrobe to fit my own expansion." Beverly smirked and he smiled with her.

"How do I feel about that?"

Sitting down on the couch next to him, Beverly rested her head on his shoulder. He paused, uncomfortable for a moment. Slowly, he reached for her arm. She reached up and took his hand.

"You spoil me," she replied as she brought his hand to her abdomen. "You're much more domestic than you'd like it to be generally known. I think you'll be an incredible father. Right here," she said, arranging his fingers. "You might not be able to feel anything, but that's the spot."

He felt her ribs under his thumb, but his fingers rested on the firmness of her stomach. Trying to wrap his mind around the idea that their child slept within her, Jean-Luc watched her long fingers fidget with his.

"You've been trying to catch her moving for the last two weeks," she continued. "Data can feel her but so far, he's the only one."

"What would it-she-" he corrected foolishly, wanting to ask both questions at once. Struggling with himself for a moment, he decided to finished the first, "-feel like if she moved?"

"Like something nudging against your hand," she paused for a moment, biting her lip. "I have to admit, when I do prenatal exams I always think of kittens trying to bat your hand under a blanket. That's not really scientific, is it?"

He lifted his eyes from their hands, first amused by the flush of her cheeks, then touched by the serenity she projected. "Occasionally, you're entitled to a poetic thought," Jean-Luc said.

"You've never thought about having a child, have you?" she wondered, shifting to a more comfortable position on the sofa.

"Having never been presented with the opportunity, I haven't given it serious thought," he answered, unable to sense where she was leading the conversation. "Knowing in some fashion it's a reality," he shook his head, "I find I like the idea more than I expected."

Beverly sighed and he watched the frustration and exhaustion rise into her face. "If I'm trapped here-"

"Beverly," he interrupted, "we have every intention of getting you home."

"If you can't?" she asked softly, and he heard her hope falter. "You and I aren't in a relationship. If I stay, you will become a father, Jean-Luc--"

He grabbed both of her hands, stilling her fidgeting as he tried to help her relax.

"I love you," she said, cupping his chin before she leaned closer to kiss his cheek. "I can't let that go. I can't ask you to be my Jean-Luc. You can't step into his shoes just because you share his DNA. At the same time, I can't--"

Without knowing what else to do, he hugged her, holding her shoulders against his chest as he listened to her breathing lose its rhythm.

"I can't do this alone," she whispered, letting a tear slip down her left cheek. "I can't live on this ship, see you every day and know you and I aren't--.. Not while I'm carrying your child. I don't think I have the strength to be alone again."

"You won't be alone," he promised as fervently as he could. "I know what you went through. Our histories may not be synchronized, but you and I are fundamentally the same. We are very good, even intimate, friends."

Her finger covered his lips, cool against his skin. Instead of speaking, Beverly kissed him. His Beverly had kissed his cheek a few weeks ago, after Kesprytt. The passion of that kiss had haunted him, it came to him in his dreams, but eventually he learned to integrate the feelings he knew they shared into his life. Beverly was his closest friend and he loved her. Knowing she feared her feelings for him took nothing from that.

This Beverly, the woman whose lips were pressed against his, loved him back. She loved him without reservation and she was carrying their child. Her fingers reached for his collar, tugging at his uniform. Pulling the zipper down his back, she sighed. The nervous energy with which she'd been consumed faded into a sigh of contentment. When his jacket was loose, she brought his hands to the hem of her borrowed shirt.

"Is this right?" he asked her, suddenly stopping her from kissing his neck, "I won't deny my attraction to you, but I can't help feeling that I'm taking something that is not mine to take," he continued.

"Hypothetically," she sighed, tracing her fingers across his shoulder. "I am your Beverly and the woman you knew is never going to return. I'll spend the rest of my life here because there's no way to send me home. It's just as possible that I go home without any memory, or that you remember and I don't."

"We have no way of knowing anything about the larger situation," Beverly left the sofa and started walking towards the bed. "Right now, I'm here with you and that's the only thing we have any control over. I can leave, we could stop, or we could act on our feelings. Everything else in the damn universe is out of our control except you and I."

She kissed him again, finding her way deeper into his mouth. She stood up, eyes on him as she studied his expression. Beverly left him breathless as she stood and headed for his bedroom.

Watching her walk away, he saw Beverly pulled her shirt over her head. Her bra stood out in sharp contrast, black against the pale skin of her back. She tugged his pajama pants down to her knees, then off, leaving them by the floor.

"Get in here," she ordered. As he left the sofa, he paused in the doorway to the bedroom. Beverly sat on the side of the bed, running her fingers through her hair.

"This is my side," she explained with a soft smile. "You always end up on the right." She waved him over, extending a hand. Her bare legs were folded on the bed. Taking her hand, he let her pull him over to the bed. Beverly caught the hem of his undershirt, pulling it up to expose his stomach. He assisted her, freeing his shoulders.

Beverly's hands wrapped around his lower back, pulling him closer. "Just take off your clothes," she teased sardonically. "Trust me, I'm a doctor."

"Beverly," he leaned down, feeling her fingers trail across his skin as she brought her hands up to the back of his neck. She pulled his head down and kissed him again, this time dragging him down to the bed. Feeling out of place in his own bedroom, Jean-Luc realized his body was much more comfortable than his mind. Her lips were soft against his neck and his blood was heating up.

She squirmed on the bed beneath him, undoing the clasp of her bra and slipping further up towards the pillows. "Take it off," she ordered him, placing his hand on her chest. Her breasts were fuller than he expected. As he lifted the black fabric off of Beverly's skin, he stopped, staring down reverently at the contrast between the pale roundness of her breasts and the roughness of his skin.

Pulling her bra aside, Jean-Luc cupped her breast with his hand. The rounded, soft flesh filled his palm and he was intimately aware that he'd never been with a pregnant woman. Beverly sighed, nodding to him as she gripped his arm. "It's all right," she promised, breathing more quickly.

"Jean-Luc," Beverly's leg nudged his side, pulling him closer, "just stop thinking about it." Her fingers danced across the back of his shoulders, stopping on his neck. When she lifted her head to kiss him, he surrendered and met her halfway. Taking the initiative, he felt her sigh into his mouth. What was familiar and beloved to her were entirely new sensations for him.

Her touch was confidant and practiced as she reached for his trousers and slid them down off his hips. Releasing her to remove them and his underwear, Jean-Luc allowed his anxiety to drift away. She coyly waved him back to the bed, draping a leg over his as he rested on his elbow.

"It's a little more comfortable with me on top," she explained, hand on his chest. Shifting her leg, she grinned as his nearly erect penis brushed her thigh. "Is that all right?"

Reaching for her belly, he kept his eyes on her. The smooth, taut skin reminded him how bizarre the whole situation was. When she kissed the tip of his nose, he chuckled. "I shall defer to your judgment," he stuttered, feeling her hand close playfully around the base of his penis. Nimble fingers ran along the vein, easing him harder.

"Captain," she purred, making him wince. Beverly rolled him on his back and mounted his thighs. Rocking back and forth slightly, she leaned down and kissed him. Her hair tickled his neck and he shivered as she trailed down his chest. His thumb ran over her nipple and her immediate gasp startled him.

She stopped licking his stomach and raised an eyebrow. "They're sensitive." Jean-Luc watched her bite her lip as he repeated the motion and ran his other hand up to cup her other breast. To his surprise, she moaned, rolling her head back. She palmed the head of his penis before guiding it in with a deep sigh. Gasping once, she smiled through her brief shudder of penetration.

His own lost breath had to be replaced, leaving him unbalanced when she began to move. Beverly rocking over him and sliding her chest against his was intoxicating. Jean-Luc fought to stay lucid, to be in control of his body, but want had him. Years of pent-up longing, denial and fear evaporated away; all that mattered was her.

Physically, she knew how they fit and she knew exactly where to rest her hands on his chest. His body surrendered to her, rising up to meet her hips faster than the rhythm she'd chosen. Finding her clitoris with his fingers, he circled it. The distraction was enough to stop the movement of her hips. Breathing hard into his neck, she moaned, suddenly as desperate as he was. Keeping one hand there, Jean-Luc used the other to squeeze her butt.

Her shocked inhale nearly turned the kiss into a bruised lip. Beverly's throaty giggle made him press harder, rolling her clitoris between two fingers. Kissing her forehead as it passed his mouth, he tasted her hair. She started to pant, whimpering as she started to orgasm. Her right hand grabbed his free one and pushed it into the bed. Taking that as permission, he tilted his pelvis, deepening the angle and losing himself in her.

Catching his lip between hers, she kissed him as her orgasm took her. Feeling the rolling stiffness pass through her, he allowed himself a moment of belonging. She was all around him, full of the richness of life. She consumed him, pulled him in, and captured him. She met his eyes, finding his soul and welcoming it home.

Releasing into her stung, like something within him had been lanced and freed. The exquisite rush that followed made him chuckle and she kissed his cheek. Sighing contentedly, Beverly shifted and lay across his chest. One of her hands rested in the hollow of his neck.

Her contented murmur made him smile. Other emotions vied for his attention, but calm defeated them all. Beverly slipped from the bed, kissing him as she disappeared into the lavatory. His mind drifted, letting him fantasize about a universe where she did sleep in bed with him each night.

After straightening the sheets, he was rearranging the pillows when she returned. Beverly shook her head, smirking a little as she crawled in. "You are very much you," she observed, propping herself up on an elbow.

Lying down on his back, he stared up at the starscape and then over at her. "He must love you very deeply," he said seriously.

She snuggled against him, curling up so most of her body was in direct contact with his naked skin. "Give her a reason not to be afraid," Beverly answered. "There's very little she wants more in the universe than to be with you."

He nodded slowly. Beverly's chest slowed and he was relieved that she would sleep. A thought struck him and his dry chuckle brought her out of her doze.


Startled, he forgot what to do with his hands and reminded himself to let them rest on her shoulders and back. "I can't help wondering what it would be like if my Beverly was pregnant. I have to admit I'm fond of the idea."

Beverly sighed, nodding slowly. "Just so you're aware, I- we- Beverlys that is, get a little sick."

"Really?" he deadpanned. "In my universe, when you had Wesley you loved the first trimester."

Her knee nudged his thigh and she lifted her head to glare at him. "Jean-Luc, there is no universe where that would be the case."

"That bad?"

She dropped back to his chest. "You have no idea."

Staring up at the ceiling and listening to her relate a few of the experiences that the other him had helped her with, Jean-Luc realized he was lucky on several counts. Sleepiness dulled her descriptive power. He lacked the necessary anatomy to carry a child. Finally, though she insisted he was lucky to have missed her middle of the night bouts of nausea, he almost wished he had been there.

2nd Variation
One moment he was listening to Data explain the situation to the displaced Beverly, and the next moment she was staring at him as if his beard was green. Will sighed and lifted his hand to stop Data.

"Are you all right?"

Beverly dropped her head into her hands, and the confusion on her face when she lifted her head insisted she'd been displaced again.

"Take a deep breath," Deanna suggested at her side. "The dizziness passed quickly last time."

Glancing around the table, Beverly's expression was suddenly stiff, "Where's the captain?"

"I'm here," Will offered from the head of the table. As the doctor turned to look at him, he watched her face freeze over. She'd been expecting someone else. Deanna felt the stab of loss in Beverly and through his link to his wife, he shared her sympathy.

"Our universe might be defined by losing Picard," she reminded him in his thoughts. Her sympathy felt warm in his mind. "She loves him very much."

"Captain Picard?" Beverly asked softly.

"We couldn't bring him back from the Borg," Deanna answered, touching the other woman's shoulder.

"He died bravely in battle," Worf announced with a nod, and Beverly recognized the Klingon was trying to bolster her. Her lips couldn't smile, but a little color returned to her face.

"We believe we will be able to return you to your reality," Data piped up and Geordi agreed with him.

"In fact, captain," Geordi flicked his gaze up to Will. "The sooner we get back down to the shuttle bay, the sooner we'll be able to send the doctor back home."

"He was just here," Beverly sighed, and Will was surprised by the fragility in her voice. "I was looking right at him. Geordi was explaining something about quantum displacement, I got dizzy--" She stopped herself and met his eyes dead on. "Will-Captain-" she corrected, shell-shocked, "I need to go to sickbay."

"Sickbay?" Will asked. "Are you all right?" There was something odd about her. Her hair was similar, he might have noticed the other differences if they were standing next to each other. He couldn't shake the idea he was missing something. but Beverly was fundamentally Beverly.

"Imzadi," Deanna answered his thoughts in his mind for him, "she's pregnant."

Will knew better than to immediately stare at Beverly's abdomen. Missing his former captain hit him in a rush,rush; he winced and remembered how hard it had been for his Beverly. Losing Deanna to some alternate reality while she had been carrying one of their children was terrifying, even in the hypothetical. He watched Beverly and Deanna stand and waited for them by the door.

"In my timeline," Beverly said, coolly getting to her point, "Captain Picard and I are involved and this is our child. I need to make sure she's all right."

Deanna smiled at her warmly and nodded towards Will. "We have three children," she offered gently as she let Will lead the way.

"You delivered the first two," he teased, grinning at Deanna. "Worf got the last one."

"We hit a cosmic string fragment," Deanna explained, nudging her husband's arm. "I went into labor in Ten Forward and Jonathan was born rather quickly into waiting Klingon hands."

"Worf wouldn't talk about it for weeks," Will continued when he noticed a little more color in Beverly's face. "When he finally talked about it, he just said that he had 'greater respect for my mate.'"

"Which is Klingon for the fact that he's still terrified of me," Deanna added, still smiling.

Beverly's amusement led to a real smile. "And the other two?"

"Girls," Will groaned melodramatically, "before Jon, I was hopelessly outnumbered. Beth is six, Iyana is four and Jon will be two soon. You, our you," he corrected, concentrating on keeping a smile, "teaches them tap dance and ballet, in secret of course. You spoil them rotten."

Telling stories of the girls as they walked kept the mood light. Once in sickbay, Beverly headed straight for her office, wincing as she reached over her desk to activate her computer. Will guessed the setup must be the same because she was immediately comfortable once in her domain.

Her left hand pressed into her back and he felt Deanna nudge his thoughts. "Was your baby all right the last time you shifted?" he asked, watching Beverly run the probe down her stomach.

"She seemed to be fine," she replied, thoroughly distracted by the readout. The tricorder beeped and the tension in her face eased. Beverly ran the test again and sighed in relief.

"I'm glad," Deanna offered, smiling warmly. She took the chair across from Beverly's and Will sat down next to her. Their visiting doctor took a moment to take the cue and sit. Knowing the baby was all right made her relax, but without that tension Picard's absence weighed on her.

"So the Enterprise is Picard's ship?" Will asked gently, hoping that talking about home would keep her in a good mood. Years spent cheering up his Beverly had made it a habit.

"You're still first officer," she said, pulling up her legs beneath her.

Deanna chuckled, "Think you're still afraid of the big chair?"

He took her hand and squeezed it. In front of his Beverly he would have kissed it, but this version was in a more fragile state and he had to be more sensitive. "I'm probably sticking around for a certain ship's counselor."

Her touch against his mind reminded him how deeply he loved her.

"Did you have any problems conceiving?" Beverly asked suddenly, surprising them both out of their thoughts.

Recovering faster, Deanna shook her head. Will shared her confusion, feeling it seep into him like a damp fog.

"No," she offered quickly. "Will and I married right after Wyatt Miller left with the Tarellian plague ship we met on Haven. Elizabeth was born the next year without complications. Iyana and Jon were both easy, relatively pleasant pregnancies."

"The wedding was all set up," Will shrugged playfully as he embellished the story. "Watching Deanna get ready to marry another man, I realized how much I loved her."

"Beverly?" Deanna prompted when the other woman was silent too long.

"In my universe, there was an energy being, one you named Ian, who borrowed your genetics in order to be born into corporeal form. Your body was exposed to massive amounts of radiation--"

Will and Deanna shared a look, shock bouncing between them before Will answered. "You had a child in a similar manner. Almost six years ago, we were on a routine mission and you woke up one morning, suddenly eight weeks pregnant."

"The whole experience was very difficult for you, but Captain Picard was very supportive," Deanna recalled. "He stepped in as a father figure and you raised a 'son,' Dalen, together."

"He lived a drastically shortened lifespan, becoming adult in a few days, but when he left he thanked you both for letting him experience humanity. Captain Picard always spoke fondly of the experience, and you kept a picture of Dalen," Will finished. He pointed to a framed shot of a smiling young man with bright red hair, grinning next to Wesley on her back counter.

"The whole unique experience brought you a lot closer," he finished, softening his voice. "You and Captain Picard had always been good friends. Having a child together, even in a drastically shortened amount of time, had a big impact. Deanna and I thought it was why the two of you started dating."

"What happened in your timeline?" Deanna urged gently her as they watched Beverly lift the photo.

Watching the wrong Beverly touch the faces of her sons, Will's heart went out to her. If somehow they hadn't forced her to adjust to enough knowing Picard was dead in this timeline, now she had a son she'd never known.

Beverly blinked quickly; he and Deanna both saw the tears but neither of them mentioned them. "You, Deanna, carried a son to term, that you named Ian. He died soon after he was born because his presence was endangering the ship. I was at Starfleet Medical at the time--"

Will smiled playfully, hoping his memory would cheer her up. "In our timeline, you never went. You always joke that Captain Picard begged you not to go, but you say the truth is you hated paperwork too much to take the position."

Smiling thinly at Will's story, Beverly looked at the computer. "I need to see my medical records," she explained. "In my timeline, the child Deanna carried made her sterile. If it caused the same condition in me here, I might be able to better understand how I can help her."

Will recognized the earnest look she only got when she was desperately serious. "As long as you think you wouldn't mind."

3rd Variation

"What's going on?" Beverly pushed her chair back from the table, obviously confused. Jack blinked. One moment earlier she'd been one of the alternates, the Beverly Crusher who had lived as a widow for fifteen odd years and had slapped him when she'd seen him. This version seemed just as confused, but less angry. Jack reached for her hand to comfort her and she immediately went white.

Cursing himself for his stupidity, he inclined his head towards Tasha Yar, his operations officer. "Tell her," he ordered as he wondered why his ship had become the transit hub of reality skipping Beverlys.

Beverly shook her head, going whiter still towards grey. "You're--"

"Dammit," he hissed and turned his gaze to Commander Troi, his first officer, who was sitting next to him at the table in the Observation Lounge. Deanna disliked being emotionally involved with anything, but even Captain Jack Crusher could tell Beverly's fear had an effect on the ex-counselor.

"You're safe," Deanna promised her, "you're all right. You're on the Enterprise. You've had a jump, a quantum phase shift--"

Beverly cut her off. "You're--"

"Dead," Jack finished for her. "Yeah, I know," he trailed off and wondered what the hell he was supposed to say. "Look, Bev- doctor, I know it's a lot to take in but in this reality, I'm alive and I'm the captain of the Enterprise."

Beverly looked like she was about to be sick. Jack's mind brought up memories of long nights in the bathroom, trying to keep her entertained. When she stood, backing away from him and Tasha, his conscious mind put together what his subconscious already had: she was pregnant. It was obvious in the swell of her belly and the size of her breasts.

Deanna reached for her arm, calming her slightly. "Beverly, I know you're frightened and this is quite a shock, but this is real in this universe. Jack and Tasha are as real as you and I."

Even though Deanna had given up the position of counselor six years ago, she still had the soft, calming authority of a psychologist in her voice.

"Tasha, Geordi," he turned to his staff, relieved they were all so reliable that even in strange crises such as his wife jumping timelines, he could count on them. "Get down to engineering and figure out how to get every Beverly Crusher back to her own universe." He turned to Deanna and nodded to her. "Number One, you have the bridge."

When they were alone in his ready room, Jack stood in front of the wrong Beverly's chair and sighed as he leaned against the table. "Let me guess," he began, "Stargazer accident? I died a hero, much lamented and adorned with medals for my bravery?"

She couldn't laugh, but Beverly did offer a weak smile in return. Taking it as a good sign, he reached out a hand and waited patiently for her to take it. "Come on, come up to the ready room and I'll give you some tea."

Captain Jack Crusher stood in front of his replicator and stared at his wife. She wasn't his wife, of course. He had to keep reminding himself of that. No matter how confusing it was, she was Beverly Crusher. Just not his Beverly. He replicated her a cup of dukari leaf tea and handed it to her.

She took a sip and immediately looked confused.

"You don't like it?" he asked sheepishly as he sat next to her on the sofa in his ready room.

Beverly tilted her head and studied the liquid. "I've never had it before."

Thinking for a moment, Jack snapped his fingers. "Our eighth anniversary, we went solar sailing on Pacifica. Wesley fell in love with flying fish. You and I watched the stars come out every night. We were pregnant with Lucy when we got back."

He pointed at the tea. "I'd just been given the assignment as the Starfleet commander of the Andorian ship yards. You were going to have some time to work on your research. Wesley was going to get to ski and we'd finally get to have a baby together properly, instead of over subspace. You spent most of your pregnancy addicted to dukari leaf tea and elryeon root stew."

Her smile was gentle but he recognized the dull pain in her eyes. She'd enjoyed the story, but it was simply a fantasy that she would never be a part of. "In my timeline, you died when Wesley was five. We never had an eighth anniversary."

Jack reached for her cheek and stopped himself abruptly. She might not welcome the contact with a dead man but it was hard not to comfort her. Beverly took another sip of her tea and sighed, pressing her hand into her forehead. He knew that behavior indicated a stress headache and wished she'd let him do something to help.

"I hope you don't think I'm being rude," he stared down at her stomach. "Who's the father?" When she didn't reply quickly, he tried to soften the question. "Are you happy where you came from? Did you remarry?"

She stared at him as if her eyes had frozen and it was impossible to look away. Beverly answered and her voice caught in her throat and she mumbled, "Jean-Luc."

"Jean-Luc," he repeated, whistling as he shook his head. "In this timeline, Jean-Luc died," he replied, "saving all our asses when the Stargazer's nacelle exploded." He set his coffee aside and watched her face. He and his Beverly still mourned their friend with an annual bottle of wine. "We were both devastated. The tea comes into the story when you convinced me to stop moping around and take the trip to Pacifica. You and Walker both thought that it would be good for us to spend some time together as a family."

She took a deep breath and shook her head slowly. "In my timeline, we never--"

"It's all right," he promised her, reaching for her shoulder. Squeezing the muscle, Jack smiled. She even smelled like his Beverly. "It's a strange to the nth degree situation. You're allowed some conflicting emotions."

As he tried to reassure her, he hoped desperately his wife was all right. Was she having a similar conversation with a version of Jean-Luc? Maybe even a version of Jean-Luc who was about to be a father, he reminded himself. He'd never be able to congratulate his long dead friend, but he was happy for him. Knowing Jean-Luc was with Beverly was an odd twist of fate, but Jack approved of the relationship and the baby. They were the two people he loved most, other than Wesley, in the universe. He wanted them to be happy, even if he wasn't around to see it.

Thinking of himself dead made him shiver. Jack knew how close he'd come on a few occasions and being confronted with it now almost made him feel guilty. His feelings weren't his primary responsibility. Beverly looked like hell, and whether or not she was his wife didn't matter. His first responsibility was to get the gallows look off her face.

"Look, you got a little swapped around. Stuck in the wrong universe. It's okay. I'm sure they're working just as hard as we are to get you switched back."

She nodded, acknowledging that he was speaking without taking his words to heart. Jack sighed, wrapped an arm around her shoulder and then pulled her close to hug her. Beverly was rigid at first, and she held out longer than he expected before she finally gave in and hugged him back.

"I've missed you," she whispered.

"I'm pretty special," he teased her, tightening his arms in response. "I'm the kind of guy that leaves an impression." When they drew apart, he kept his arm on her shoulders, reminding himself to treat her more like a sister than his wife.

"Beverly, honey, bunny, cupcake, sweet darling doctor--" the ridiculous nicknames made her laugh, just like they used to in medical school. Finally relieved, he leaned back into his sofa and grinned at her expectantly. "Tell me about you and Jean-Luc."

She stopped laughing but kept her smile. "He's going to be a good father," she began shyly. "We didn't plan the baby--"

"Some things never change," he quipped, rolling his eyes. "I doubt there's a you out there that's planned a baby." Jack grabbed her hand and squeezed it. "How's he in bed?"

Pausing only for a moment, Beverly's expression turned wicked. "Very adaptive. Sweet, inventive, and he does this thing with-"

He threw up his hand, "I get it. I get it." Jack eyed her appraisingly, searching for the unfamiliar in the woman he knew so well. "Your hair's longer," he decided. "You smile less, but that makes sense under the circumstances. What else can I ask… How's Wesley? Dealing with his step-dad well?"

"Wesley's in his third year at the Academy," she answered with a proud smile that he recognized immediately. "He's always been so-"

"-dedicated to his studies," Jack finished with her. "Seriously, there were times I thought I'd have to drag him onto the holodeck for fun, kicking and screaming as I pried him away from his books."

"Jean-Luc and I aren't married," she volunteered, when they finished sharing a chuckle at Wesley's expense. The ice returned to her eyes and Jack started to wonder how much guilt she was carrying around with her.

"Why the hell not?"

Beverly startled, jerking back from him as she stared. She opened her mouth, closed it, paused and then found her voice. "I'm sorry?"

"How long have I been dead?" he reminded her with mock impatience. "Thirteen years? Fourteen? You obviously-" he raised his eyebrows at her, "-obviously, love him very much. You like marriage, and considering your first husband, that's no surprise. Jean-Luc's not me, but he's not the kind of guy you want to let get away. He loves you and I'm willing to bet he's thought about marrying you a few times. Considering he's probably too polite to bring it up, you're going to have to take the initiative. He's a big romantic softie who'll melt when you tell him you'd like to start calling him your husband."

He pretended to wrack his brain for a moment while she stared at him, openmouthed in surprise. "Get an old book and scrawl inside the cover 'Marry me Johnny, you magnificent bastard!"

When she didn't laugh, he groaned melodramatically as if she'd wounded him. "What's wrong?"

"Is that really what he wants?" she lowered her head, closing her eyes for a moment and suddenly, irrationally, Jack felt guilty for abandoning her to deal with her universe all by herself. "You don't know the whole story. He never wanted a baby, I did."

"Little ones are a hell of a lot of fun," Jack reminded her. "Wesley and Lucy, they're the best things that have ever happened to us. Even when there was fingerpaint on my dress uniform and science projects in our closet, they were amazing little things. Jean-Luc will get that."

He touched her chin, then her nose, waiting for her to smile. "I'll bet however he felt in the beginning, he loves it now, doesn't he?"

"He does," Beverly answered, still fighting tears. "I guess it's not just that."

Jack wondered if he should just push all the right buttons, cause a meltdown for her own good; sometimes she needed it. He scratched the back of his head, trying to decide what else could hold her back. "He's developed an aversion to marriage? You've started bringing home dead things from the morgue and he can't stand being in your quarters?"

Her laughter bordered on a sob and he smiled as gently as possible. "Come on, you can tell me. I'm dead."

Widening slowly, Beverly's blue eyes became far too bright before the tears started winning. "He brought you back to me," she whispered. "He walked with me, stayed with me while I stared at your body and convinced myself you really were gone." She didn't wipe her eyes and he knew she was going to be crying for a while.

Jack finished the thought for her. "Nana's getting old. You're still too busy to have a lot of friends and if you lost him, especially if he were your husband, you wouldn't know what to do with yourself." He gave in to his impulse and hugged her tight, holding her close as if she were his Beverly.

"Sweetheart," he rested his chin on her head, feeling her shoulders tremble. "Beverly," he corrected, "we die. We're in Starfleet, both-- all of us, and we're in a little more danger of dying than the rest of the universe. We know that. We chose that. Yes, it's a terrible gamble and sometimes we lose big, but we're making the universe better. We're keeping the peace, we're finding new places, meeting alien species that change our fundamental existence."

Lifting her head, Jack carefully dried her cheeks and held her face close. "The fact that you could lose each other any moment is exactly why you should get married. Stop wasting time, take what is precious and share it with each other. Let him spoil you and call you silly French things. Rant at him and fight with him when you've had a bad day. Tell him exactly how you're going to kill him when you go into labor in complete and gory detail. Be happy."

To his surprise, she kissed him. His Beverly cried very rarely, and the few teary kisses he could remember were all distinctly different from the longing in this one. She loved him, she had the kind of heart that didn't move on, but this kiss was entirely about Jean-Luc.

He kissed her forehead, smiling at her rakishly, then leaned back. "If I could, I'd give you away."


"I'd punch him first for being a stubborn idiot and not marrying you," he explained. "Then I'd give you away. I want you to be happy. If I'm dead and being with him makes you happy, just give in to it. Be happy." Jack chucked morbidly. "Listen to the dead man. Life is short."

Wiping her eyes again, she nodded and her smile in return suggested he'd gotten through. "I really have missed you."

"Of course you did," he quipped. His communicator chirped and before he tapped it, Jack finished, "I'm pretty damn unique." Still holding her hand, he answered, "Crusher here."

"Captain," Deanna's cool voice responded. "We've reached the coordinates of the energy rift. We were about to begin the scan when we-" she paused, unusual for his icy first officer. "I think you'd better see this, sir."

"On my way," he tapped the link closed and touched Beverly's chin. "Come on. We have to get you back to your own universe so you can make someone an honest Frenchman." Helping her to her feet, he grinned at her wickedly. "Too bad you won't get to see the kids. Lucy looks a lot like Nana but she already has your temper. Luckily, she's as charming as I am so she's a double threat."

He guided her out onto the bridge, hand on her lower back, and watched as Deanna vacated the center seat.

"We seem to have been displaced," she reported as she indicated the viewscreen. "All sensors report that we're still where we were, but so are they--"

Jack turned quickly, discovering 'they' were hundreds of thousands of Enterprises. The Enterprise-D had been duplicated so many times that it looked like the viewer had been fractured and was malfunctioning. Whistling slowly, he sank his seat. "How many hails?"

Tasha turned in her seat at the front left console. "So far, we've received 285,000. The one ship native to this universe seems to be taking the lead. They've sent out a quantum signature that we need to match to the right Beverly Crusher."

"Geordi?" he titled his head back towards the engineering console. "Are we a winner?"

"I was just finishing the comparison, sir," Geordi replied. Jack could almost hear the smile on his face when he finished. "Yes, captain, it looks like we are."

"Hail them back Lieutenant," Jack ordered Worf as he leaned over to Beverly in the chair on his left. "Ready to go home?"

The longing in the way her hand rested on her abdomen nearly answered for her. "Yes, thank you."

"On screen," Worf's deep voice rumbled.

The view popped on and there he was. The most poignant ghost from Jack's past stood on a mirror image of Jack's own bridge. The uniforms were a little different; Jean-Luc didn't have the decorative silver braid Jack did, and his jacket looked less comfortable. Both of them stood, almost in unison and advanced towards each other.

Jean-Luc's mouth opened, then closed and Jack realized he'd had the benefit of knowing who he was going to be talking to while the other man had been completely surprised.

"Jack?" Jean-Luc whispered slowly.

"Long time no see," he quipped dryly, giving the other man a moment to regain his composure. "Captain, it seems I have someone who belongs on your ship."

The Beverly on Jean-Luc's bridge seemed equally shocked to see him and he felt for her. Other than Beverly and Worf, Jean-Luc's bridge crew was completely different. Will Riker stood at Picard's side; it stung to look at him and Jack realized his Deanna was on her feet next to him.

Data, whom Jack had promoted and shipped off to the Demeter as first officer years ago, still sat at ops. Deanna was still on the Enterprise but her face was softer and she still wore blue instead of the red of command. Everyone other than Picard and Beverly was staring at Tasha.

Jack put a comforting hand on her shoulder. He fully understood what it felt like to be the walking dead.

"Are you all right?" Jean-Luc's question was solely for Beverly and Jack turned to see her nod as she stood.

"I'm fine, captain," she replied subtly. Jack almost wanted to elbow her, but he let it slide when Jean-Luc's expression calmed and he returned to business.

"Our La Forge and Data have concluded that sending Doctor Crusher back through the rift in our shuttlecraft Curie should seal the damage among universes," Jean-Luc explained. He finally tore his eyes off Jack and Beverly and looked at Tasha.

Jack recognized Jean-Luc's guilt on his face and wondered if he looked as haunted when he looked at their Will Riker. His first officer hadn't even had a beard when he died. His Will Riker was a younger brother, and losing him had been brutally difficult. Having Beverly to support him, and the responsibility of keeping Deanna from the brink of self-loathing and resignation had gotten Jack through the loss.

In sharp contrast, the version of Will Riker who stood behind Picard looked confidant and ready for the captain's chair.

"I'll walk her down to the shuttle bay myself," he promised. Taking a good hard look at his old friend, Jack realized that even if he wasn't going to remember, he was glad to see him. "Good to see you."

"Likewise," Jean-Luc replied softly. "Life on this side of the universe just hasn't been the same without you," he finished.

Jack recognized the pain in his voice. It was good that this Jean-Luc was getting married and moving on with his life. If he kept Beverly happy, more the better for both of them. "Take care of her, and don't go naming the kid after me or anything foolish. Jack Picard just doesn't have the right ring to it.

Picard's bridge crew didn't know him well enough to see the agony just beneath the surface of their captain's face.

Jack watched Beverly meet the other man's eyes. "It's been a long three days," she told him and her voice teetered on the edge of breaking.

"It'll be a relief to have you back," Jean-Luc said.

Any doubt Jack had that they were meant for each other burned away. Jean-Luc could have told her he'd wipe out planets for her and it would have carried just as much feeling. Jack's Beverly belonged with him. The woman next to him, the one with so much pain her eyes, needed to go home.

"I'll see that it happens. Take care of yourself," he smirked. "You're all out of hair."

"And you've gone grey," Jean-Luc prodded in response.

"I didn't say I needed my wife back now, did I?" Jack winked at his friend and started up towards the turbolift. "Number One, I don't want to lose that Enterprise before Beverly gets through. Make sure we don't get them confused with another ship."

He waited until La Forge was a few meters away before he let Beverly cross to the lift. "You stay back Geordi, don't want to have another switch now that they've finally found her," he said.

"I'll catch the next one," Geordi answered with a sheepish smile. "Have a good trip, doctor."

The turbolift hummed and carried the two of them deep into the Enterprise. The relief on her face soothed him and he was glad he could be part of sending her home where she belonged.

"Be careful now," Jack warned in a mock serious tone as they watched the shuttle move towards them on autopilot. "If this little one's anything like Lucy, you'll go into labor in the worst time imaginable and you'll end up giving poor Jean-Luc a black eye."

"I don't think you're that alike," she retorted, "but I'll keep it in mind."

Across the shuttle bay, the forcefield hummed as the tractor beam guided the shuttle in. Up in the control booth, La Forge nodded and called down, "This is it, captain. The shuttle's quantum signature and Doctor Crusher's match."

Jack walked her down to the shuttle, taking her hand before she went inside. "I love you," he offered up with a shrug. "I'm never going to see you again, and I probably won't even remember this. I want you to be happy, and I'll come back and haunt you if you don't make it happen."

She reached for his cheek, then grabbed the back of his head and kissed him, hard. Wondering what his wife was going to say, he kissed her back, slightly surprised that the way she moved her tongue against his had changed. Wondering wickedly in the back of his mind what else Jean-Luc had taught her, Jack rubbed her belly and pointed towards the shuttle.

"Tell Jean-Luc I miss him," he offered with a grin. "No one here falls for my bluffs as well as he did."

Beverly nodded and stared at him for a long time before she pulled her eyes away. "Goodbye Jack."


Steering the shuttlecraft into the rift, Beverly focused entirely on getting home safely. Thinking about Jack wouldn't help, nor would worrying about the other versions of her lost in the ether. It sounded simple enough, fly straight into the rift, following the exact course that had brought her here.

She was almost there when the shuttle rocked hard.

"Computer?" Beverly called out, knowing the impact didn't have anything to do with the rift. She hadn't felt anything when she'd passed through it last time.

"The shuttle is under attack," the computer reported. "Phaser fire. Suggest evasive maneuvers."

"That's not an option," she answered the computer.

"We've taken care of the problem," Deanna's voice promised calmly over the commlink Beverly had forgotten was open. In the corner of the shuttle's front view port, she watched one of the Enterprises explode in a ball of white fire. "One of the ships had an objection to returning home. You should be fine from here."

"Thank you," she responded as her heart slowed down in her chest. "Shuttle out." Beverly wondered how close her Deanna was to becoming this cold. She didn't want to ask why that ship was so desperate not to go back. She stared straight ahead and drove the shuttle right into the rift.

When she entered the rift, the shuttle was suddenly full of her. Versions of herself sitting in all possible positions, moving through each other as if all of them were just slightly out of phase. Her stomach twisted independently of the baby and she forced down her nerves. The baby flutter kicked a moment later and some versions of herself shared the sensation. It was dizzying how many there were; some of the other ones were pregnant. One much more so, a few in different trimesters and one who was consciously aware that she had just become pregnant.

Their thoughts were just different enough to still be individualized, but united enough that the sensation was vaguely pleasant instead of being overwhelming. Everything about her was amplified into a collective being that wanted to go home to her family, in whatever shape they took.

For a moment she was united, merged into a single copy of herself. That collective consciousness knew all parts of Beverly Crusher that had ever been. Her memories of her lovers merged with her parents, her grandparents, and her children to form the united memory of all those she had ever loved. All the choices she had ever made, and could ever make in the variations of quantum time joined together forming one unanimous moment of being where she was more herself than she ever had been or ever could be again.

Main Theme - Dal segno al fine

In the shuttle, her hands moved across the controls, setting the autopilot. Her feet rested against the deck. Her left calf itched and her hips were sore. Her lower back had ached dully from the conference and Beverly sighed, letting the tension out of her chest. She was alone.

After that realization, her hands began to tremble, exhausted from her journey. She could always keep them steady during a surgery but flying a shuttle didn't require that degree of control. Separated from herself, back in her own universe, Beverly pulled her knees up to her chest, dropped her head to them and began to cry.

She was done long before she reached the Enterprise. When she landed, Beverly's eyes were dry, she'd found the strength to smile and she was excited by what lay ahead of her. Jean-Luc would be there. He'd promised to be there, and even in the wrong reality, he'd been there in the shuttle bay. This time was no different.

The door to the shuttle slowly lowered itself to the deck and he began to smile before she even started towards him. Beverly didn't know what he'd been expecting, but her half run down the ramp straight into his arms was definitely a surprise. Jean-Luc hugged her back, fiercely returning the emotions she thrust on him.

"Long trip?" he asked with gentle eyes.

Beverly shook her head, feeling tears stinging her eyes again and wishing she could do anything to will them away. "Let's just say I got a little sidetracked," she said.

Sensing she needed to leave the shuttle bay, he lifted her bag and offered her his arm. "Tell me over dinner."

3rd Variation - Coda

Beverly Crusher ran down the ramp into the shuttle bay of the Enterprise and nearly tackled her husband. Jack chuckled and returned the kiss with equal ardor.

"I guess someone missed me," he teased, wrapping his arms around her lower back.

"Would you believe I ran into a rift, went universe hopping and managed to land in three different universes where you weren't there?" she nuzzled his neck and let him keep his arms around her.

"Three universes without me?" he tilted his head thoughtfully and then looked extremely sympathetic. "Were they all terribly boring?"

Kissing his cheek, she pursed her lips and thought about it as they walked towards the doors. "Getting to see Jean-Luc again was bittersweet. Knowing I'm with him in several universes is a little strange."

"You and Johnny, eh?" he scratched his head. "I could see that. I guess you'd get lonely without me and need someone else to torture with your theatrical aspirations." Jack reached over and tickled her as the turbolift sealed them in.

Beverly jumped, then elbowed him in the side. "It was good to see him," she continued, rolling her eyes at her husband. "Will Riker's alive too, in one universe he was even with Deanna."

Jack sobered up, holding her close with an arm around her waist until the lift opened. "Don't tell her," he suggested. "She's been having a rough few weeks since her mother was here. Finding out she had a sister she has lost on top of everything else," he broke off, shaking his head. "You know how she is."

Beverly paused outside of their quarters, trying to recall where their daughter would be. "Is Lucy still in the art room?"

Grinning wickedly, Jack grabbed her bag and led her into their quarters. "She'll be there for at least an hour, if not more. It's Tuesday, sculpture night, remember?"

Leaving her bag by the door, she crossed to him and started to kiss him. Pushing him back onto the sofa, she returned his smile. "I love Tuesdays."

2nd Variation - Coda

Deanna and her son Jonathan were waiting for her when she returned. The little toddler ran up to Beverly and hugged her knees. Deanna pretended to look chagrined, but beamed at her son.

"How was your trip?" she asked.

Beverly caught her eye and realized the Betazoid was sensing her renewed state of mind.

"Eventful," she replied evasively, reaching down to scoop up little Jonathan Riker. "I ran into some kind of quantum filament. A rift between this universe and all the others. I started shifting quantum realities. Bouncing from one version of my life to the next. First I was on a ship where you'd married Worf instead of Will and the two of you had three children. Then I was on a different Enterprise and my old friend Walker Keel was in command. He'd taken command when Jean-Luc was killed by the Borg."

The last sentence stung a little less than it usually did; losing Jean-Luc was a wound that Beverly never expected to heal.

Deanna's hand touched her shoulder. "What else happened?"

"In the last universe," Beverly kissed Jonathan's little brown head and smiled weakly at the memory. "Jean-Luc was still alive."


"He and I-" she paused, bouncing Jonathan as she searched for the words, "-we're together there. We live together in his quarters. That me," she stopped again, biting her lip before she forced it out. "That version of me is five months pregnant."

Her smile was fragile, but she fought to keep it. "They're so happy Deanna," she murmured over the little boy in her arms. "He's in love with her- me- and they're together. If things had been different, if we'd found another way to stop the Borg..."

Deanna reached out and squeezed her shoulder, reminding her as she had nearly every day for the last four years that what Beverly had done was right.

"I couldn't tell him at first," Beverly continued, still rocking back and forth where she stood in the shuttle bay. "I couldn't look him in the eye and tell him that in my reality I had to kill him to stop him from destroying all of the Federation."

"But you did," Deanna plucked from her mind.

"I cried," she shook her head, nearly in tears again. "It was absolutely surreal. Seeing him again, listening to him tell me that he understood why I had to do what I did, I broke down."

The Betazoid's dark eyes studied her, searching for the truth. "Did it give you closure?"

"A little," Beverly admitted. "He kissed me. Promised me that any version of him would have understood, would have still loved me right until the moment of his death." She made faces at the boy in her arms and then sighed heavily when he giggled and hugged her tighter.

"I seduced him," she finished. "I couldn't stop myself, maybe I didn't even try. I started kissing him and even though he was worried about her, the other me, the pregnant one--"

Deanna smiled gently and ran her hand down Beverly's arm. "You shared a deep connection with Jean-Luc Picard in this reality, it's only logical that it could be as deep in other variations of your life. You have no reason to feel guilty. I'm sure the other you will understand."

"It's not just--"

Eyes tightening with suspicion, Deanna stared at her friend. "What else could you have done?"

Beverly kissed Jonathan's forehead again, deeply grateful for that wonderful little boy. "Jean-Luc let me take home a gift."

"A gift?" Deanna repeated, her face softening as she picked up the emotional thread Beverly couldn't keep buried. "What could you possibly…"

"Deanna," Beverly handed Jonathan over and lifted up her suitcase. Watching Deanna's expectant face, she finally let herself smile, "I'm pregnant."

1st Variation - Coda

When he didn't meet her shuttle, as he had the last time, Beverly was almost disappointed. She shouldn't have expected Jean-Luc to be waiting for her, ready to kiss her as passionately as he had in the other timeline. She did miss the greeting. She'd seen so many different things, variations on her universe where everything was drastically different. Just knowing that there were so many variations, she could have come home contented, not needing to change anything. Then, almost to prove her wrong she'd shifted into a reality where Jean-Luc was everything to her.

Beverly touched her lips, feeling guilty as she walked into the turbolift. She couldn't let herself kiss him on Kesprytt. She'd turned him down in his quarters but somehow in a foreign universe, she had let go. How she was going to walk up to him and admit that she'd gone to bed with a version of him, she hadn't the slightest idea. As it was, she almost dreaded facing him at all.

"Face it," she muttered to herself. "You're in the universe where you're an idiot." The lift carried her up to the bridge. At any moment, Beverly could have redirected it, chosen a path that would lead her to sickbay or her quarters. She didn't have to file the report. She could call it a dream and go back to her life.

What was she going back to? Slightly awkward, though fulfilling breakfasts, a standing date for any social event on the ship and a very good friend whom she undoubtedly hurt each time she walked away from one of the near misses and kept their relationship stagnant. Standing outside the ready room, Beverly reminded herself that in this, and every other quantum reality, she had made the choices that led her where she was. She just couldn't shake the idea that she'd made a mistake.

Maybe the error had been on Kesprytt, when she'd been so surprised by the depth of his feelings that she couldn't voice her own. They'd been there, but neither of them had mentioned what she felt. Jean-Luc had been brave enough to empty his heart, and while her feelings had been obvious, they'd never discussed them. They smiled at each other and continued to lie.

Beverly shook her head as she walked into the ready room. Perhaps she'd made not one error, but a set of them leading back to the moment when she'd decided not to explore what they felt. She couldn't. She wasn't able to make herself that vulnerable again, not after Jack. She was the coward, the failure, the one version of herself who wasn't able to get over the past. She slept alone in her own universe while her bed was shared in the others she'd visited.

"Welcome back, Doctor," Jean-Luc said, smiling up at her from his desk as he worked. "I trust the conference was as good as you expected?"

She'd nearly forgotten she'd even attended the conference. Still standing in front of his desk, Beverly nodded absently. "It was an admirable presentation of scholarly work and the other speeches weren't too dry. Doctors McCoy and Wade were definitely the highlights."

He paused for a moment, then set his work completely aside. He must have heard the underlying despondence in her voice and she realized she'd given herself away. "Beverly?"

"I saw my other lives," Beverly answered him.

Jean-Luc's eyebrows rose expectantly. "Something at the conference?"

"I passed through a rift," she explained, looking past him out the long window behind his desk. "I'll write a formal report after I get my head straight."

"You shifted realities?" Jean-Luc wondered. He'd had a similar experience. Q had been involved but he thought he understood what she saying.

"I spent time in several different universes. Some were only a little different, minor variations but the last one I visited--" Beverly dropped her eyes, staring at the dark glass surface of his desk and the work he'd abandoned. "I wasn't prepared."

"What happened?"

"I found something I'm missing," she ventured, swallowing and looking back up. "I saw what my life would be like if I made the choice to stop being alone." Beverly couldn't finish the conversation. There was too much to risk, too many chances to say the wrong thing. Unable to look at him, she started to pace.

"One moment I was in an early staff meeting, the next I was lying in bed next to you," she said. Staring into his patient hazel eyes, Beverly wondered why she'd spent so much time keeping him deliberately just out of reach. "I started to think the whole thing was a dream, but then you woke up and began your day by telling me you loved me. You kissed me, climbed out of bed and headed for the shower and I lay there, staring up at the ceiling until it finally occurred to me that that I was a fool."

She stopped pacing in front of the window and turned to find he'd stood to meet her. Jean-Luc's expression was calm, as patient as ever, but she thought she could see the glimmer of hope in his eyes. Kissing him was much easier than explaining anything further.

"Jean-Luc," she caught her breath, reminding herself that the rewards exceeded her fears. "I--"

He held her cheek in his hand, then smiled as if she'd shone a light inside his soul. "I'm glad you made your way home."
Main Theme - Fine

Beverly let Jean-Luc clear the plates away as she continued her story. "On that Enterprise, Jack was the captain, you'd died long ago. Deanna was the first officer and Jack had picked up your habit and called her Number One."

Jean-Luc winced as he set the remains of a ratatouille and leftover bread into the replicator. "That must have been disconcerting," he said.

"Tasha was alive; the ops officer. Data was on a different ship entirely," she explained. "Jack dragged me into his ready room, gave me some kind of Andorian tea I'd never had before-"

"Was it good?" he interrupted, filling her cup with hot peppermint tea and taking his seat near her again.

"It was," she answered with a smile as she tried to remember the name. "I'll look for it for breakfast."

"I'm sorry," Jean-Luc smiled back, "please."

"We talked," she explained, holding her tea cup and staring over it at him. "In that timeline, Jack and I have two children, the younger one, a girl is named Lucy for you--"

His smile broadened and he reached across the table to touch her arm. Even though they hadn't been her decisions, she was oddly pleased he approved.

"It must have been difficult for you."

"No more difficult than I imagine it was for you, constantly getting new versions of me with completely dissimilar sets of memories," she smirked at him. "You don't get any real sympathy because you don't remember."

"Fair enough," Jean-Luc agreed, reaching out to her, taking her tea and getting ready to migrate to the sofa. "Though it seems rather suspect that only you remember anything about what happened."


He stopped, setting both cups down. "What is it?"

Beverly bit her lip, she'd been trying to find the right way to say it since she'd returned and everything she could think of felt inadequate. She'd considered what she was about to do and the prospect was mildly daunting.

He knelt down in front of her, putting his hands on her knees. "Something else from Jack's ship?"

"Something Jack said," she lowered her hands to his, and wound her fingers into them. "I know we haven't talked about it, but I think we should."

Jean-Luc was quick to soothe her, "Beverly, I have no intention of trying to replace Jack, in your memories or your heart."

Putting a finger on his lips to prevent further protest, she rolled her eyes towards the ceiling for courage and then stared down at him. Serene and content with the knowledge that she was finally home, Beverly squeezed his hands.

"Jean-Luc, marry me."

"Beverly-" he started to rise and she kept the finger over his lips.

"I love you," she continued. "You're my touchstone. When I'm afraid, when I'm exhausted, when I'm angry as hell, whenever I'm outside of myself, you not only give me something to come back to, you give me a reason to fight my way back." She squeezed his hands tightly. "I know I don't have a ring, or even a book, and this isn't at all romantic."

Jean-Luc nodded once, acknowledging what she'd said. He stood, studying her face, then kissed her. "I didn't want to ask," he answered.

"Before we were together, I had convinced myself it was enough to be near you," he continued. "The idea of having a wife was something I'd considered but didn't have the time to pursue. You filled that void for me and I spent much time trying to convince myself that that you and I would be very good friends, we'd have our work and that would be enough."

"And it wasn't?"

Jean-Luc's dry chuckle startled her a little. "It very nearly was. Then circumstances," his eyes dropped to her belly and he smiled, "changed. Living with you and watching our child grow within you brought greater joy to my life than I imagined myself capable of experiencing." Returning to his knees, he took her hands again and looked up directly into her eyes. "It would be my very great honor to marry you."

Bending down to kiss him, she sighed when he met her halfway. He kept his forehead against hers and her love for him warmed her chest.

"Soon," she insisted and he rocked back, curious. "The next time we make port. Deep Space Nine, next week."

He released her hands and held on to her knees. Jean-Luc smiled softly and said, "I can assure you, barring any quantum displacements beyond my control, that I'm not going anywhere if you want to take more time-"

"I want you," she said. "Dress uniforms, sickbay gown, Betazoid style-"

Jean-Luc raised his eyebrows.

"-maybe some clothes," she finished. "I don't care how it happens. I just don't want to wait. There's a lot of traffic through there, if I contact Nana and Wesley--"

He nodded and his face softened; she hoped he understood her haste. "I'll contact my brother and his wife, but Robert doesn't like leaving Labarre to examine oak barrels in old Germany, let alone to travel all the way to Bajor."

Beverly moved to kiss his cheek, needing the contact. Jean-Luc turned into her lips, deepening the kiss. "I'm glad you came home," he whispered, forehead against hers.

"For a moment, in the shuttle I felt like I was every one of me," Beverly shook her head, pulling back to think. "I could feel everything each one of me was thinking. All our fears, all our hopes, everything I've ever done in every permutation that could have occurred. In other universes, I want to marry you because I love you. I may marry you thousands of times across quantum realities but this one is special because our outcome is unique to you and me. Marrying you here, in our universe, is a singular opportunity."

Stroking his chin, she leaned in to kiss him again. "I can't let that get away."