Fair Trade



This is my Picard/Crusher fic
(there's lots of bonus Imzadi in it too, I promise). It's loosely
based on the season 7 episode "The Gambit part 1". I got the idea
from a scene in this clip. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWyJ1bY66jE)

Fair Trade
Rated PG-13
By Opal
Part One

"The alien in the corner has seen the Captain and I believe he will
tell us what he knows," Lieutenant Worf growled into his drink. "For

"Don't suppose you happened to bring any?" Commander Will Riker teased
as he stuffed his hands into the pockets of his long sweater. "Let's
get this over with. Non-aligned worlds make me nervous."

Worf looked away for a moment and Riker wondered if he was trying not
to smile. Worf managed to turn his inappropriate smile into a glower.
Will buried his own amusement beneath the thought that in the end it
might be as cheap as a few bars of latinum to get the captain back.
Letting Worf lead him to the table, Riker tried not to think about
whatever gunk on the floor he was getting on his feet. He wasn't
wearing his real boots, of course, but sometimes it surprised him just
how dirty it was off of the Enterprise.

The table was grimy as well, somewhere between sticky and just plain
dirty. Will's sleeves stuck slightly as he sat down. The alien leered
at them greedily. He had round black eyes and a leathery face that
looked like it had been balled up and left to dry in the sun. Leaning
forward on his crossed arms, he decided to press the urgency of the

"My friend tells me you might know something about the man we're
looking for," Will asked briskly.

The alien looked back and forth nervously before leaning slightly
forward. "The only reason I'm talking to you is because I have a
sister too," he replied secretively.

Surprise turned Will's eyes to Worf and he started to realize he
wasn't going to like where there was heading. Worf could be
surprisingly devious when it came to retrieving information. The big
Klingon did not disappoint. In complete seriousness, even with a touch
of sympathy in his voice, he explained why the alien was so concerned
with family. "I explained to him we were looking for a man who
impregnated your sister," Worf said.

Will managed just barely to keep shock from his face as he tried to
dredge up the shame he should have all over his features. He was
wondering just how Worf had come up with that story and why it was his
sister, not that he had one, when he caught Beverly moving into
position on the alien's right. Will's mind contorted slightly and
suddenly Worf's plan was irresistibly brilliant.

"So, you can imagine how much this means to me," Will added for the
alien's benefit.

The alien was too happy to agree. "Family honor is important," he
began smoothly losing some of his nervousness. "If someone had defiled
my sister, I would do anything, pay anything, to find the one

The alien was raising the bet, seeing how high Will was ready to go.

"How much might anything be?" Will asked harshly. He and Worf were
dressed as traders or merchants, not the kind of people who would be
carrying large sums of money.

"As much as five bars of gold pressed latinum," the alien asked
slickly losing his nervousness now that they were discussing money.

All Will had to do was scratch the back of his ear and make sure
Doctor Beverly Crusher, currently under cover as well, saw it. The
trigger of her phaser made a sharp chirp as she pressed it into the
ugly little alien's neck.

"I'm sorry," she snapped sharply and Will had to bite his lip to keep
from smiling. She was going to kill him as soon as she found out the
part he had assigned her in the charade. "I didn't quite hear you. How
much latinum is this going to cost?"

The little alien stiffened upright in his seat.

Will took full advantage and pressed his moment. "That's my sister,"
he began adoringly but then changed his tone to one of fear. "She's
angry. She's got a vicious temper, I wouldn't cross her."

"Did I say five?" The alien asked softly trying to sound jovial when
his enter body remained ramrod straight. "I meant three."

Beverly dug the phaser deeper into the alien's neck and the squeezed
it a little tighter. "Two and five slips," she demanded harshly.

The alien recognized both defeat and the ire of a scorned woman.
Nodding once, he said, "Tomorrow morning. There's a street market half
a kilometer from here. Meet me by the poultry vendors at just after

Worf looked to Will who seemed to be playing the leader. Reaching for
Beverly's hand under the pretext of calming her, he squeezed it
reassuringly. They finally had a lead on the captain's whereabouts
after nearly almost a week of searching.

"Done," Will agreed with a nod of his head. When he wrapped an arm
around Beverly's waist she let it settle in, even rested her head
against his shoulder. He started to grin when he realized that
position let her glare at the alien as he left, even keep the phaser
surreptitiously pointed at him.

Across the seedy bar, Deanna Troi slipped out after the alien and
watched him for a few moments before returning to view in the doorway.
She nodded as if to say he'd beamed away. Will led Beverly towards the
door, keeping his protective arm around her. Worf followed and Deanna
met them in the alley behind the bar. Back there the smell was worse
than it had been in the bar, refuse mixed with odors of several
different alien species. Will spared a moment trying to decide if
Beverly was letting him keep his arm around her because she was still
holding up his pretense or the captain's absence was hitting her
harder than she cared to admit.

When the comforting blue light of the transport wrapped them up, all
of them breathed a sigh of relief.

Beverly removed her tricorder from her pocket as she stepped off the
pad. "There was human cellular debris present on the wall behind where
that alien was sitting," she explained darkly. "I think the captain
was in a fight."

Worf grinned slightly. "I hope that he fought well," he added.

"I guess we'll find out tomorrow," Will sighed as he crossed towards
Deanna waiting for him near the door.

Putting her hands on her hips, Beverly turned to Worf and Will before
either of them could escape. "Just what did you have to tell him
anyway?" she asked firmly.

Deanna's lips curled into a small smile as she sided with Beverly.
"Whatever it was," she began curiously. "It was fairly effective, the
alien's mental state became far more sympathetic."

Will deadpanned and reached for Beverly's shoulder. "I'm afraid it's a
bit of a delicate situation," he pulled her closer and waved them all
in. "The captain has defiled my sister and abandoned her in a delicate

Deanna's amusement danced in her dark eyes. Worf smirked and for her
part, Beverly just started to laugh softly. "Sister?" she asked as she
shook free of him. "Who's idea was that?"

"Worf's!" Will reported gleefully.

The Klingon meet Beverly's raised eyebrows with a shrug. "Family honor
can be a strong motivating factor in many species, including humans,"
he offered as an explanation.

"I just want to see the captain's face when we tell him he defiled
you," Will teased with a shrug.

Deanna rolled her eyes and started out into the corridor. Worf
followed her and Will could hear her giving him the third degree about
his choice of cover stories.

Beverly's laughter was soft and almost sad. She bit her lip when she
met Will's eyes. "We could have him back tomorrow," she sighed heavily
wrapping her coat tighter around her body. "Or he's dead and we'll
never see him again."

"We haven't seen the last of Jean-Luc Picard," Will reminded her in an
effort to get her smile back. She looked slightly more optimistic when
he smiled at her; he settled for that. "Is there any way you can
convince him to stop looking for pieces of lost civilizations on
planets out this far?"

"Agreed," Worf murmured darkly. "This planet is not even a Federation
protectorate, nor does it maintain diplomatic ties with any planet
under Starfleet . This planet's own laws are-" he paused and grimaced,
"-Inadequate, poorly enforced and frequently unjustly influenced by
corruption. I will be pleased to be away from here."

"You and me both," Will agreed with a shake of his head. "Next
vacation, the Captain goes to Risa or he stays in the holodeck."

Beverly's hat itched a little. It kept her hair out of the way and it
was definitely not Starfleet-looking so she reminded herself again it
was good that she was wearing it. At least she didn't have to wear
what Deanna was wearing. She didn't even know where she had found it,
that kind of pattern certainly wasn't in the replicator. Maybe she'd
asked her mother.

Deanna had a bright purple velvet dress that clung to her body as if
it were the skin of a thousand snakes. It was edged in latinum thread,
and a golden snake, complete with amethyst eyes, was wrapped into her
dark hair. The dress left most of her breasts and almost all of her
back bare. The parts of her skin that were covered seemed to only be
so out of necessity.

Will wore a simpler outfit, black trousers and a purple vest that
matched Deanna's dress, as befit his station as the husband of a
traditional Betazoid. He only spoke sparingly and seemed to be as much
of an accessory as the snake in her hair.

Now that they were no longer trying to be undercover, Worf was dressed
fully as a Klingon bodyguard. He wore so much black leather that he
creaked when he moved and smelled like bloodwine and the horse stables
her grandmother used to speak so fondly of.

"Look," Deanna intoned leaning down over the table so her cleavage
seemed to only stay in her dress by the use of an invisible force
field. "I don't really care what he's good for. I just knows he's the
ruffian my husband's idiot sister took to her bed and as long as he
can't stop thinking about her `situation', I can't stop thinking about
her `situation'."

She wore a dark purple lipstick that made it look like her lips had
been stained with same dye as her dress. The affected accent she'd
chosen made Deanna sound like some cross between her mother and an
Orion courtesan.

Running the back of her hand lazily down her breasts, she sighed
heavily. "It's rather inconvenient," Deanna purred. "If you can
imagine the thoughts he keeps having while we're--"

Baran, captain of the smuggling vessel Jean-Luc had somehow become
entangled with, leered openly at Deanna's breasts and forced a laugh.
"What business of it is mine?"

"A good business man knows when he's being offered a good deal," Will
ventured when Deanna laid a hand on his shoulder. "We're offering more
than twice what a human of his age is worth." Leaving his chair, he
moved slowly towards Worf and Beverly, as if he was surveying the room.

"And what will you do when you get him?" Baran asked incredulously. He
was doing something, fidgeting, with his hands. Even from across the
room, Beverly didn't need to be an empath to know he didn't trust them.

"Kill him, cut him into pieces, marry her to him--" Deanna waved off
all of the suggestions. "I don't care what she does with him as long
as she stops complaining to my husband."

Will leaned close to Beverly, making it look like he was simply
concerned for her welfare. Biting her lip had the desired effect and
tears came to her eyes. Will cupped her cheek and leaned closer.
"There's a dampening field up in the bar, our communicators aren't
working. Nod if you can get outside long enough to contact the ship,
if you can, have Data start scanning for the captain." She nodded and
squeezed his hand in response before he walked away.

Baran continued to stare at Deanna's body and licked his lips before
he spoke. "And what proof do you have? Only your word that your
servant is pregnant?"

Throwing her hand up in front of her mouth, Beverly dropped her head
suddenly. Worf's hand reached down in a show of support. The Klingon's
hands steadied her shoulders as she pretended to stumble. In three
steps she was out of the bar and into the rank air of the back alley.
Two of Baran's guards were less than ten meters away, so she dropped
against the wall, putting her knees against it as she pressed her
forehead against the stone. Worf knelt next to her a moment later,
putting the bulk of his body between her and the guards.

"Do you feel ill?" he asked loudly.

Coughing, she moved closer to him for cover. "Will needs us to contact
the ship, have them scan for the captain."

Worf turned his head to the side in mock disgust and Beverly heard the
leather creak as his hand reached for his phaser. "You must pull
yourself together."

Reaching for the commbadge hidden in her pocket, Beverly tapped it on
and started to whisper. "Data, the smugglers are using a dampening
field. We need you to scan for the captain's bio-signature and prepare
to beam us up immediately if the field drops."

When the guards moved, he brought up his arm to block their view of
her mouth and pushed her down further. "I must return," Worf whispered
back. "The guards are looking this way Doctor," He growled under his
breath. "I apologize for this," he whispered without taking his eyes
off the guards. A rock-like fist slammed into her stomach just beneath
her solar plexus, for a moment she was entirely unable to breath. Then
she was vomiting what she'd eaten for breakfast that morning onto the
dirty stones and replicated duracrete of the alley. As soon as the
wet, disgusting sound reached Baran's smuggler guards, they backed away.

Worf had hit her so hard it stung to breathe. Nodding to him with
tears in her eyes, she squeezed his hand and tried not to wish he was
dead. Someday, she would have to ask what Mok'bara move led to this,
if she reached a point where she could speak again. She was still
struggling for breath when Will, Deanna and Worf emerged from the bar.
Deanna's boots glistened even in the poor light of the alley. Worf
followed immediately afterward, playing the bodyguard.

"See to her," Deanna snapped irritably. Lifting the train of her dress
far from the alley, she moved quickly. "Make sure she is done before
you bring her to our ship. I can't abide the smell."

"Yes, my wife," Will said simply as if he had been saying it all of
his life. Beverly heard instead of saw Will kneel next to her. Her
eyes were still clouded with tears.

"Worf," she sputtered weakly. Will's arm wrapped around her shoulders
and he eased her up to her feet.

"He's more devious than I've ever given him credit for," Will teased
as he kept a careful eye on Baran's guards. Will's face was so close
she could feel his beard on her cheek. "Certainly more than he shows
at poker. He has the captain's blood sample. He'll keep it safe until
we get back to the ship." Pulling his head back, he spoke louder. "Can
you walk?"

Taking a step with him, she sighed heavily and spent a moment wishing
her life really was as simple as dealing with her overbearing
brother's wife. She hadn't seen a doctor in his crew. He was obviously
dependent on the Romulan for his scientific knowledge. Romulans were
devious. If Jean-Luc really had an importance to the smuggler captain,
Deanna's case would have to be convincing.

Will's steading hand remained on her shoulder, even when all hell
broke loose around them. An old-fashioned, noxious gas grenade
exploded behind her head. Dampening fields must have been incredibly
common on this hole of a planet for the law enforcement officials to
use them. She had already been having trouble breathing before the
stinging air filled her lungs. Her training told her to drop to the
ground, look for the sweeter air near the stones.

It was Will's body that helped her make it down. He wedged her between
himself and the stone and duracrete wall of the bar. Boots rushed
around them, Will grunted when a foot hit too close to him. The sound
of electricity, something she didn't usually hear, arced through the
air. His hand on her rib cage was nearly awkward but he was close
enough that she could see the apologetic smile on his face.

Will was dragged to his feet first, hauled bodily up so he could be
cuffed with old fashioned metal rings. Deanna stood next to him,
checking he was all right with her eyes before she returned to her
death glare at the lead guard. Baran and his smugglers were cuffed as
well. The Romulan appeared to have gotten away and Worf was growling
with blood on his brow. Deanna silenced him with a look, staying in

A guard started to pull her up. Beverly sagged, letting the guard bear
the burden of most of her weight. He had to rest her against the
building before he slapped her wrists into cold metal. He said
something but she didn't hear. There were three other smugglers. Two
aliens and someone bald. Her eyes were full of tears and stinging; the
guards were dragging him in a different direction some ten meters away
through the smoke but she knew it was him.

"Jean--" broke her lips before she could stop it. The guards didn't
know any better. No one but Will had heard her slip. Taking a breath,
the first full one she'd taken since Worf's stunt, Beverly screamed.

The bald man's head shot up. He wore brown leather and some kind of
baldric instead of his uniform, but his blue-grey eyes were the same.
The sharp lines of his face and the cut of his jaw were unmistakable.
Relief sang through her like a river washing out a levy. Fears and
dread she hadn't admitted she even held rushed through her heart and
left it hollow.

For a moment, she felt something intangible, something that had no
name pass between them. Jean-Luc's face stiffened and he dragged his
eyes desperately away. As her relief ebbed and became manageable, the
anger welled up in it's place. Why was he with the smugglers? Why was
he pretending to be someone else? What kind of dire hold did they have
on him?

"I said get moving," one of the guards snapped angrily and smacked her
roughly with the back of his hand. With her eyes and thoughts still on
Jean-Luc, Beverly barely felt the blow.

Deanna's imperious glare was almost as good as a blow in return. "Get
your filthy hands off of her," she ordered with enough venom to be
palpably dangerous. The guard looked surly, but Deanna's words and a
sharp look from the woman who seemed to be in charge had the desired

"Run their retinal scans through the database," the woman, obviously
some kind of overworked inspector, nodded her green frilled head at
one of her subordinates. One guard, green and frilled like the
inspector, wrapped his scaly hands around Worf's head and held him
still as a second guard checked his eyes with a small hand-held scanner.

The scanning guard nodded quickly and moved to Deanna. Shaking her
head with rage she wasn't bothering to conceal, she refused to have
anyone touch her. Deanna's disgust and anger seemed to give her an
aura of impenetrability. The scanner beeped once and the same guard
nodded. The inspector seemed to relax slightly, almost as if she were
pleased she wouldn't have to arrest anyone.

Beverly couldn't take her eyes off the other guards and the other
line. Two of the smugglers had been forced down onto the muddy stones
lining the alley, Baran was being scanned and Jean-Luc was next in line.

"Beverly--" Deanna's admonishing voice cut through her distractions
the way the guard's voice hadn't. "Look at the scanner."

She could barely pull her eyes off of the captain but Beverly somehow
managed to force her gaze into the soft light of the scanner. It
flashed once and beeped without conviction. The guard nodded and this
time the inspector actually seemed pleased.

"You may leave," the inspector offered simply. "Your retinal patterns
have been logged. Any further involvement with Captain Baran or his
crew will be considered a violation of Suukan law. Our punishments are
quite severe. I suggest you get as far away from this rock as soon as
you can."

"Nothing would give me more pleasure," Deanna spat as she eyed her
wrists with disdain. Acting as if she'd been contaminated simply by
the touch of the guard, Deanna tilted her head and drew Will and Worf
to her. "We're beaming up. Now."

Jean-Luc had been shoved down to the ground with the rest of the
smugglers. The inspector, who seemed to be nearly as perceptive as
Deanna, caught Beverly's glance. "Baran and his crew of miscreants
will be detained until our authorities are certain they pose no risk
to Suukan order."

Deanna paused in her imperious exit. Glaring at Beverly the way she
would have looked at a misbehaving pet, she sighed. "One of the
smugglers, the hairless one, what will happen to him?"

The inspector didn't answer immediately and Deanna sighed again with
greater annoyance. "My servant is-" she seemed to choke on the word as
if it were unpleasant,
"-fond of him."

The inspector's yellow eyes remained unmoved.

Deanna waved the inspector closer with one finger. "He has fathered
her child. The entire mess is an inconvenience of the highest order
and the feeble-minded woman has feelings for him. I hate to encourage
her failings but good help is very hard to find."

The reptilian inspector's triple eyelids blinked once, like a pair of
portholes squeezing shut. "He has no record but he may be found guilty
of association," the inspector answered. "Suukan law is harsh but not
entirely unreasonable. Normally there would be little you could do,
but if her situation is as you have described you may have a chance.
You may inquire tomorrow, three chimes before sunset when the courts
open." She drew a thin slip of silicone from the pocket of her dull
grey uniform. "This will show you the way."

"Thank you," she replied coldly. Snapping her fingers at Beverly,
Deanna inclined her head. "We are done here." Turning her head with
great effort away from the captain, Beverly fell in step just behind
Deanna. Closing her eyes kept them from tearing up again and a moment
later the transporter grabbed her and took her away.

When the effect of the transporter faded, Will was helping her down
from the transported padd. Deanna was laughing softly in relief as
Worf critiqued her performance. Beverly's mind was racing as she tried
to remember anything she had ever heard about this dammed planet. When
Worf caught her eye, he apologized again.
"Doctor, please forgive me," he begged politely. "I was concerned that
the guards would get too close--"

Beverly accepted his apology with a wave of her hand. "It's all
right," Worf's solution had a simple beauty to it and had definitely
been effective.

"What did he do?" Deanna asked with a touch of concern that seemed
entirely out of place in her current ensemble.

"I performed a maneuver called GuIhmKhah ," Worf explained sheepishly.
"I apologize for the discomfort suffered by the doctor, however, as I
needed the smugglers to retreat a few meters. It seemed the best way."

Deanna's dark eyes widened beneath the heavy make-up she was wearing
as part of her costume. "GuIhmKhah?" She patted Beverly's shoulder.
"I'm sorry. It's supposed to be almost as bad as a painstick."

Worf shook his head and gave Beverly a respectful nod. "Indulging the
current fantasy instead of lying about something else was the simplest

Will's smile disappeared as he tried to place the reptilian race in
his mind. "I don't think I've heard of the Suukan," he admitted with a
disappointed smile. "Any of you know anything about them?"

"They were referred to in my xenobiology class at the Academy as
walking lie detectors," Deanna mused as she tried not notice the looks
she was getting from the crew as she led them towards the observation
lounge and their debriefing.

"Reasonably skilled warriors," Worf added with a quick nod. "They move
quickly for a reptilian species but their technology is beneath that
of the <i>Enterprise</i> or even what we will have available to us on
a runabout. We will prevail."

Deanna chuckled as they entered the turbolift. She patted Worf's
shoulder before she reached over and wrapped her arm around Will's.
"Klingons really don't get enough credit for their positive thinking,"
she said.

Will grinned with her and leaned in to admire the snake in her hair.
Pretending that it could actually see him, he stared it down until
Deanna smacked his shoulder.

"It was good to see the captain," Deanna sighed optimistically as the
turbolift let them out on deck two. "Even if he's in prison, we know
where he is and that he's alive."

"I am afraid knowing where he is only provides us with a new
difficulty," Worf rumbled as he headed for his chair. Data sat in
Will's usual place at Picard's right. Without the captain, the senior
officers would force him to take the head of the table. Deanna sat at
his right and directed her dark eyes at the empty chair. When he tried
to avoid it, Beverly watched as she squeezed his arm and steered him
directly there.

Taking her arm, Worf brought her to the sink in the back of the room
before went to the replicator and brought her a glass of water with an
apologetic nod. Beverly rinsed her mouth twice before she brought the
glass of water with her to her seat.

"Then your mission was a partial success ?" Data asked as he waited
for everyone to sit. "You have located the captain?"

"We found him Data," Deanna answered warmly. "He was just arrested for
smuggling artifacts."

"Oh," Data replied softly. "I do not suppose that was what the
commander was referring to when he told Captain Picard to get into

Will's smile was almost a grimace. "Data, he's being held by the
Suuka, what do you know about them?"

"The Suuka are a reptilian race known for their extreme devotion to
the truth," Data began to report as Beverly heard the other officers
settle into their chairs around her. "They possess unusual visual
acuity that allows them to see the fluctuations of blood flow in the
faces of most mammalian humanoids. The telling of lies, or creating a
falsehood creates stress they can observe."

"So we just need to con a bunch of walking lie-detectors," Will sighed
and leaned forward in the captain's chair. He looked as uncomfortable
being in it as she was seeing him there instead of Jean-Luc. "Okay, we
know he's in trouble with the Suuka. What do they intend to do with
him? What's their legal system like? Any way we can bail him out or
get him on probation?"

"Probation is unlikely, sir," Data replied gently. "Suukan law is
based on a cost-benefit system. If the criminal is judged to be of
greater benefit than detriment to society, they are usually allowed to
pay a fine and proceed with their lives."

"Seems simple enough," Will agreed tapping his hand on the table.
"Jean-Luc Picard is definitely of greater use to society."

"Will," Deanna interrupted him by placing a calming hand on his arm.
"They think he's a smuggler named Galen. He has no criminal record,
but his chosen profession certainly isn't very useful."

"Not to mention the fact that admitting he is Captain Picard would
involve exposing a lie he has already given to the authorities," Data
reminded them all. "The Federation has little power influence in this
system. Simply being a Starfleet captain would not balance out the
fact that he has lied to them about his idenity."

Taking a sip of water helped clear her throat before she spoke. "Why
wasn't that lie detected? His name isn't Galen. They should have seen

"It is possible they did not even ask his name," Data inferred. "It is
also possible that they consider his name unimportant. Currently he is
a smuggler of ancient artifacts and we can assume he will be treated
as such."

Will sighed. Deanna's expression was grave, even with her outlandish
make-up. Worf's eyes were on Beverly and she tried not to squirm
beneath his gaze. "I suppose we don't want to know what the punishment
is for being caught smuggling on this backward little planet?" he
asked rhetorically even though he knew Data would answer.

"If Galen is judged to be a drain on society he will be removed from
it," Data reported with none of the emotion that kind of proclamation
required. It almost made it seem less ominous. Beverly felt her
Klingon induced nausea resurface with a vengeance as she tried not to
think of an universe without Jean-Luc Picard.

Worf straightened in his seat with a creak of leather. "The question
then becomes, how do we make him useful?"


Chapter Two

Beverly Crusher knew she should have gone to sleep as soon as she got to her quarters. Instead, she found herself pouring over her old medical texts. Something nagged her, she knew she’d read it once a lifetime ago. She wasn’t entirely sure why the thought was relevant to the situation but it dug so viciously into her mind that she had to know.

Tossing aside the padd containing her first year medical studies of eugenics, she reached for the next volume. Scanning through the history of Khan Noonien Signh, she finally found the words she wanted. It only took three paragraphs to neatly outline what had taken the most dangerous scientists of the twentieth century nearly fifty years to create.

Beverly read those three paragraphs until all of it was seared into her mind. After that, she had to log into the Federation database on a subspace uplink. The necessary information wasn’t stored on the <i>Enterprise</i>’s computer with enough detail. Luckily, they were still in stationary orbit over the planet and the damn ruins Jean-Luc had been so excited to study.

Her computer clock chimed oh-one-hundred hours and pulled her away from her ill-tempered wishing that Jean-Luc had a hobby that kept him safe on the ship. Tapping the hypospray once on the table out of habit, Beverly shot the third dose of the complicated drug cocktail into her arm. Will and Deanna would probably tell her she didn’t need it, no part of their farce required her to actually pass a blood test, but if anything happened to call their bluff, she had to be ready.

She’d already taken the liberty of darkening her hair, not all the way to brunette, but something closer to Will’s.. Combined with her hat, the lighting in the bar had been weak enough to hide her red hair enough that no one would noticed the difference. Their eyes were both blue, and the skin tone was close enough, most non-humans wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

The hyposprays were her own design. A cocktail of hormones and tissue stimulants, taken one an hour for the last four hours with three remaining, was working her body into a state it hadn’t been in for a very long time. It had been just under twenty years since she’d been pregnant with Wesley. Jack had been with her, she’d been incredibly happy and she had her whole life in front of her. Back then it certainly hadn’t felt like her head had been impaled on a hot metal stake.

Dropping the padd of barely legal medical information on the table with a clunk, she returned the empty hypospray container to the replicator and ordered a cup of tea. The computer beeped patiently and prompted her to be more specific. What did it matter what kind of tea it was? She just needed something to distract her stomach from the way it was rolling beneath her chest.

The replicator materialized the ginger tea she must have ordered half a moment before the room started to grey out. Sliding down the wall to the floor of her quarters kept the room from fading from greyscale to black. With her head between her knees, she inventoried her symptoms. Aside from a strange, almost painful kind of nausea, she had a headache was nearly a living thing, her breasts ached as if they’d suddenly doubled in weight and her back stung. No part pregnancy in her memory had been like this.

Being pregnant with Wesley had been pleasant, uncomfortable at times, but one of the better periods of her life. Focusing on her memories drew her away from the cold sweat starting to break out on her body. She’d had a few miserable pre-labor days right before Wesley was born. Jack had been on a black ops-mission, dealing with the Cardassians, and though he and his team had brilliant avoided capture, they were stuck behind enemy lines on a warp two freighter. Jean-Luc had been the one dealing with her irascible temper and barely contained frustration at the situation.

Jack had no business going on that mission and everyone it seemed but him had been fully aware of that fact. Jean-Luc had been her saviour after a particularly desperate late night subspace message of hers. Taking an entire month of leave and letting the Stargazer be used to train cadets until he and Jack returned. He’d been the one to read plays to her when her back felt like someone had torn her spine out with pruning shears. Jean-Luc had sat on the floor by her bed, the sofa, and the grass on Copernica City and just talked to her.

She wasn’t even sure they’d ever spent as much time alone together before or since. When Wesley arrived, wet and screaming into the Lunar night, Jean-Luc’s hands and been the ones on her shoulders and his gentle, patient voice had been the one in her ear. Will and Deanna had never heard that story. She couldn’t even remember if she’d told Wesley.

In a way, talking about it seemed to take away from the moment. Jack had come home when Wesley was a few hours old. Jean-Luc had faded into the background, emerging from his studies of archeology and his duties as captain just long enough to share a meal or take Wesley off their hands so they could actually be adults for a night.

Jean-Luc may have had trouble with children later, but he was a natural with Wesley when he was a baby. He moved slowly, spoke softly and could contentedly spend hours reading to him while Wesley slept on his chest. As Wesley got older, Jean-Luc’s visits became less frequent.

Deanna would say she was bargaining. Grasping at old memories and trying to find peace with herself. The nausea started to fade back into something manageable and she dragged herself to her feet. Leaning on the wall was still necessary but she could keep her head up. Why was Deanna on her mind? Why was Deanna important? What was it about her that itched at her mind?

The leftover genetic texts of the Eugenics Wars weren’t enough. Most of those methods would kill her or at the very least, make her too ill to leave the ship until she lost the unnatural pregnancy she was forcing on herself. Twelve hours wasn’t enough time, not for drugs or any kind of tissue growth stimulation she could force on herself.

Worf’s words were resonating in her mind when she returned to sickbay in the middle of the night. Beverly had planned on twisting her body into a hormonal state that would appear pregnant to whatever incompetent, poorly trained physician the smugglers had at their disposal. Now she had a reclusive and poorly organized planetary government to deal with. Worf’s little con was quickly spiraling out of control.

Being outside of Federation jurisdiction meant Jean-Luc had none of the protections normally offered Federation citizens. For all she knew, he might be worse off at the hands of the Suuka than at a Cardassian trial.

“Computer, seal the lab,” she ordered. ”Begin constructing DNA and RNA profile from sample in record Picard, Jean-Luc, stardate 47122.6”

“Working,” the computer reported.

While the results began to appear on the wall terminal, she turned to the other half of her mission. Running the medical tricorder down her abdomen she checked the screen before the cold sweat started on her hands. Even with her nerves screaming her hands still worked perfectly, a lifetime of training had taught her that skill. With the laser scalpel set to the narrowest beam, she would be able to remove what she needed with a biopsy needle.

Realizing she probably shouldn’t be doing it herself, Beverly bit her lip and spent a moment trying to ask herself just what she thought she was doing. Her hunch told her this was important and playing it out couldn’t hurt anything.

Filling a hypospray with a local anesthetic, she felt the sensation vanish from her abdomen almost as soon as the drug was injected. “Computer, display my left ovary.” Instantly, the image filled the viewer. Deep in the fascia tissues of her abdomen, the small pink structure seemed to be waiting. No matter how steady her hands were, it was too risky to perform microsurgery standing up.

“Angle viewer ninety degrees, make it perpendicular to the floor,” Beverly told the computer as she lay down on the floor of her lab. Activating the biopsy needle, she opted not to give herself time to second guess. The needle sank smoothly and painlessly into her flesh. Due to the laser cauterization process, there was no blood on the surface and no bleeding internally. The nearly ripe egg was visible under magnification and held in a cyst on the surface of her ovary.

She’d performed the procedure at least a dozen times but Beverly wasn’t prepared for the shiver that ran up her spine as she performed it on herself. Tapping the control on the biopsy needle, she sealed her sample and watched the needle disappear from the viewer. No blossoms of blood gave away any internal damage. Sighing in relief, she left the floor.

Standing in front of the workbench, she deposited the egg, it was too disconcerting to think of it as her own, into the waiting petri dish.

“DNA construction complete,” the computer reported with a gentle chime.

Reading his DNA pattern wasn’t as good as touching his hand but Beverly could almost feel Jean-Luc’s presence. He’d hate what she was doing but she needed the back-up plan.

“Open the sequence and begin chromosome pair construction.”

The embryo itself was easy enough to create. Now it waited, hanging in a special stasis field in the back of her laboratory and waiting for her to know what to do. Something about Deanna held the answer but her exhausted mind couldn’t put the puzzle together. What was she trying to remember? What secret was her mind holding on to?

Drumming her fingers on her desk in her office, Beverly glanced at the viral containment units and her memory suddenly gave up what she so desperately needed.
The <i>Enterprise</i> was transporting samples of plasma plague. The samples had been contaminated with Eichtner radiation and nearly destroyed the ship. The radiation ended up being part of a hyper-accelerated pregnancy of Deanna’s that had happened in the year she was away. Kate Pulaski’s notes were well-thought out and complete. She hadn’t understood what was happening to Deanna, no one had, but the answer was there. Something in the Eichtner radiation had kept Ian’s physiology stable as he’d gestated within Deanna. Her entire pregnancy had taken just over thirty-six hours.

Beverly didn’t need that level of acceleration. She didn’t need to accelerate the entire pregnancy. She just needed to guide an embryo through the first trimester. She could deal with it after that. It might not even survive the process but it would be enough. After implantation, she deal with the problem. It, she couldn’t really think of it as anything else, would most likely die after a few days of aging at a normal rate.

It would have served its purpose and lived a full life if it brought the captain home. Her conscience could live with that. Everything in her mind was functioning in a grey area and the sobering reality was that she didn’t care.

If Jean-Luc came back, she’d deal with her situation. She’d find a way to make things plausible, functional- somehow. Even if she took her child and raised it on Caldos alone with her work, like her grandmother, she would find a way as long as she knew somewhere out in the stars, Jean-Luc Picard went on. She wasn’t ready to loose him nor did she have the strength to face a starry night without Jean-Luc Picard in it. She didn’t know how to explain it to herself any differently than that.

Two hours later, the last of her hypospray cocktails lay empty on her desk in front of her in her office in sickbay. Beverly’s head was spinning again, rife with the nausea and the blinding, stabbing pain that seemed to be a side effect of the sudden increase in blood pressure. She’d already gained five kilos from the weight of the extra fluids filling her swollen tissues. She put on that weight before and her height hid most of it but her uniform was now tight across her stomach, hips and breasts. It was still wearable, but it gave too much away. Her lab coat provided some protection, but Doctor Selar would definitely notice the difference when she arrived to begin the Alpha shift.

“Doctor Crusher?” The tentative voice was Alyssa Ogawa’s, Beverly knew without opening her eyes. “I thought you would be getting ready to leave on the runabout.”

“I am,” she began pathetically hoping it wasn’t entirely obvious that she hadn’t slept. Beverly opened her eyes to the empty cups littering the desk and realized it was a lost cause. “Busted?” she asked softly.

“I miss the captain too,” Alyssa offered sympathetically. “Don’t worry about the mess, I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry about sickbay either, Doctor Selar’s taking care of the paperwork and the nurses, well, we just do what we always do.”

“And you do it very well,” Beverly agreed. Closing her eyes against the onslaught of the brightening internal lights of the ship, she sighed and rubbed the center of her forehead.

“Are you all right doctor?”

“Yes,” Beverly lied reflexively. When her stomach twisted, changing the slow simmer of nausea into an all out war against her self control, she found herself shaking her head. “No. I’m sorry. Not really.”

Alyssa’s hand on her shoulder nearly made her jump out of her skin. “Can I help you?”

“No, no I’m afraid not,” she replied. She didn’t know what to say. Words barely seemed accurate. “But thank you.”

Alyssa’s dark eyes were deeply sympathetic. After a moment, she guessed; “I’ll feel better with the captain back. I think the whole ship will.”

Speaking was tenuous at best so she only nodded. Her programming of the radiation emitter, usually only used to treat persistent local infections, was done. Beverly rechecked her work as Alyssa disappeared to make the rounds in sickbay. She didn’t remember imputing the specifications, but the program was there. Holding it in her hand as if moving too quickly would cause it too explode, Beverly activated the emitter.

The silence of her office was only filled with the gentle beeping of monitors in sickbay and the gentle, omnipresent hum of the ship breathing. The tiny emitter made no sound as she clipped on her stomach just beneath her navel. Her uterus was ready and the rest of her body was as prepared as it was ever going to be.

A slow, measured dose of Eichtner radiation would morph and change the tissues growing within her until the embryo matched the level of change already in her body. Then she could halt the process and hope for the best. Leaving the relative safety of her desk for her lab in the back of sickbay, she deactivated the emitter and allowed herself the moment it took to bring the room back into focus.

It certainly was less romantic than any of the places Wesley could have been conceived. Thinking it was not much at all like making love, she rolled back her head and sighed as she stared at the ceiling of her lab. After implantation, the zygote was a ball of cells, barely more than a white blotch on the wall of her uterus. It didn’t hurt, there was no pain at all because of the local anesthetic. Beverly only felt the soft carpet of the laboratory and the strange pressure for an instant as she injected the zygote into her body.

The child was something she could cope with if it survived. Her mind barely comprehended its fragile life, though its death would leave a stain in her memories, she’d go on without it. The real change was more subtle, something insidiously buried within her as she pulled back on her uniform and activated the tiny radiation generator before hiding it beneath her lab coat.

She had thirty-two minutes before Will would arrive on the bridge. He might even be in the captain’s ready room. If she caught him early, she might be able to get him to understand. Deanna would tell her she was insane but Will would understand. He was the man who had lurked in sickbay, unable to leave Deanna’s side when Ves Alkar was killing her. He was more romantic, more foolish and ultimately more like herself.

The local anesthetic started to wear off and Beverly was stricken with a new sensation, something she hadn’t remembered. As shaky and uncertain as her hold on her body was at the moment, she suddenly realized she was inhabited. For the second time in her life, she was the protective shell of something small, fragile and completely dependent on her for survival.

Picking up the data padds she’d brought to her office, she sighed and carried the bundle towards her quarters. With the impending shift change, the corridors held a steady trickle of people. Some on the way back from the gym, a few headed home after a night in someone else’s quarters. On another morning, she would have smiled at the ensign wearing last night’s uniform who was already in the turbolift.

The anesthetic faded further, something that wasn’t quite pain tugged at her stomach. Trying to ignore it, Beverly closed her eyes. “Deck eight,” she asked the turbolift. Due to her rank, her request overrode the ensign’s and the lift proceeded to deck eight. Clutching the stack of information to her stomach, she tried to act nonchalant.

Leaving the lift gratefully, she kept her eyes downward until she reached her quarters. When the door shut behind her, Beverly turned and leaned against the wall. Pressing her hands into her stomach alleviated the discomfort for a moment. Reaching around to the zipper in the back of her uniform, she let the familiar fabric slide off her shoulders.

Replicating her costume for the planet, she reminded herself to order her bra one size larger than the one she was wearing. Dropping her uniform into the laundry slot, Beverly sighed and sent her bra into the reclamation slot instead. Even though Starfleet had designed their uniforms to be as comfortable as possible for as long as an officer might be forced to wear one, in the last twelve hours her bra had become too small. She tried to change herself as gently as she could, but even in the weak light of her quarters, she could see the marks of what she’d done on her skin.

In the mirror by her sink, the skin of her breasts was too pink, as if they’d been bruised. Her stomach was the same. The skin was too pink, as if it had taken a heavy blow. Darker marks represented the damaged collagen beneath her skin. She could heal them, but she didn’t have the time. Clipping the radiation stimulator back on her stomach through the fabric of her jumpsuit, she hoped it would be hidden enough by her coat not to cause suspicion.

Clipping her comm badge over her breast where it belonged, she straightened up and pulled on the copper colored overcoat. She’d picked it because a phaser and a tricorder could be easily concealed in the pockets. She’d need to carry a few hyposprays and have her staff stock the runabout with additional supplies. Tapping her comm badge, she made the thought an order.

Settling the strange dark hat over her bizarrely dark hair, Beverly dropped her hand to her stomach and told herself she was only checking the monitor. She couldn’t afford the emotional attachment by acknowledging what was inside of her. She couldn’t worry for Jean-Luc and it at the same time. Was it really still an it? One tricorder swipe and she’d have to admit it had a gender. Gender was a few steps from a name and all the heavy responsibilities that went with it. Smiling ironically at herself before she left her quarters, she let a tiny part of herself decide that not wanting to know, wasn’t really a bad thing.

Chapter Three

Will leaned in the doorway leading to the set of bunks in the back of the runabout, Mendel. Deanna had the con and Worf was briefing his security teams via subspace for the escort mission Data was taking the Enterprise on. Raiders were causing trouble near the demilitarized zone between Cardassian and Federation borders. A galaxy class starship was a hefty deterrent to most insurgents but Worf was preparing his deputy to man tactical in his absence, just in case.

It was a fairly routine mission and Data could certainly handle it. Data might even be the best man for the job, so to speak, because no one and nothing would ruffle him. Will had to admit feeling a little guilty letting the Enterprise out of his sight but they needed the captain. Starfleet had allowed him full control over the mission to recover the captain. He reported in when he had something to report, but most of it had been off the record.

They’d gone over the plan once and he’d intended to go over it again, just to make sure they all had it but Beverly had declined. When he’d really looked at her, he’d understood. She’d come to the ready room before they’d left the ship. Something was on her mind but she hadn’t been able to tell him. Data had questions, Starfleet wanted reports and the best he’d been able to offer was a reassuring hand on her shoulder as he talked to Starfleet command.

He hadn’t looked. Will usually rushed when he was in a hurry so he hadn’t thought much when he’d had to slow down to walk with her to main shuttlebay and the runabout. He hadn’t had time to talk to her or get to the heart of what was bothering her, not until now.

“Usually one lies on the bed,” he teased lightly. Beverly’s boots were off and neatly at her side. Her eyes were closed and her head rested on the pillow she’d pulled off the bed and placed on the deck. Her long legs were draped over the bed, with her feet up near where the pillow should have been. Her hair still looked odd, fanned out beneath her head and nearly brown instead of the golden red it had been for the last few years. It did add significantly to the illusion that she could have been his sister.

"Usually I don't feel like the bed is moving," she replied sleepily without opening her eyes.

He settled down on the floor across from her, leaning back against the bunk on the other side of the small living quarters. "Side effects?"

For a moment, she almost smiled, and her head turned slightly towards him. "My blood pressure's a little off." Her hands were folded over her stomach and her medical tricorder lay open and off to her side. "I thought putting my feet up might help."

Will nearly reached for the tricorder but decided to let her explain it to him instead. "Are you going to be all right to beam down in a few hours?"

"I'll be fine," she murmured unconvincingly. Her eyelids remained solidly closed. "Did Deanna find her mother?"

"Lwaxana is more than happy to lend us the latinum we may need to bail out the captain," he reported chuckling. "He might not like being indebted to her for generations to come, should the price be higher than we expect. Thankfully, the indomitable Mrs. Troi not only has the money, but apparently keeps several Ferengi accounts that can be accessed anywhere, including non-aligned worlds."

When mentioning the captain's suffering at the hands of Deanna's mother failed to make her smile, he reached for her hand and touched it tentatively. "You haven't told us what you did," he confronted.

"I'll pass a blood test, a physical exam and a tricorder scan," she answered indirectly. Her fingers moved almost absently responding to his touch. As her hand rolled to the side, her sleeve pulled up and exposed a strange purple mottling of her skin in a neat circle around her wrist. Glancing over to the hand on her stomach, Will reached down and tugged that sleeve back too. An identical bruise, presumably from the metal cuffs they'd all worn briefly the previous day, ringed that wrist as well.

He couldn't help wincing as he stretched to retrieve the medkit from the corner. "I didn't know they were so rough with you," Will said softly.

"They weren't," she replied. Her lips twitched and eventually formed a weak smile. "I seem to be bruising in odd places. I think it's connected to the problems I'm having with my blood pressure. It's a temporary weakening of the capillaries. It doesn't hurt."

Wondering if he wouldn't get more out of her with humor, Will rolled her sleeve back and reached for the dermal regenerator. "It looks like Deanna beats you."

That made her smile remain a moment longer. "I was going to heal them," she sighed and didn't resist as he held her wrist. "I got distracted."

"I may not have a surgeon's touch," Will teased as he activated the dermal regenerator and started making the ugly purple marks disappear. "But, I remember enough first aid to handle a bruise or two."

Instead of letting him lift her hand off of her stomach, she was careful to switch her hands, covering a small medical device with the hand he'd just healed as if she was unwilling to let it be exposed to the air.

"And that is what? A tissue regulator?" His guess must have been wrong because her forehead furrowed for a moment.

"No, but you’re close. Radiation emitter," she corrected gently. "I think it's causing the bruising problem. Capillaries are touchy things. Kind of the canaries of the circulatory system."

Finishing her wrist, Will held her hand and wondered why the skin suddenly seemed so warm. "You're not intending to fill your blood vessels with poisonous gases, are you?"

She nearly chuckled before it turned into a weak yawn. "Some missions you just can't sleep before," Beverly explained as she realized he wasn't leaving or releasing her hand. She squeezed his for a moment. "We'll get him back."

"Of course we will," Will teased sardonically. "I only had to sell myself to Lwaxana as her son-in-law to afford it."

Her eyelids actually fluttered slightly, but the light on the ceiling seemed to be too much and she pulled her hand away to cover them. "Deanna decided she'd take you?"

"Only as a last resort," he admitted with mock sheepishness. Will's medical knowledge wasn't one of his strong suits, but he couldn't bring to mind any reason why she'd need a radiation emitter. His hand hovered over her shoulder as he tried not to worry about the pallor of her complexion.

Beverly sighed heavily and reached slowly to take his hand again. This time, her grip was tighter. "Will, if you're going to ask me, just ask before I fall asleep."

He watched tiny beads of sweat appear on her forehead as her skin flushed. Her forehead crinkled again in discomfort, but she seemed determined not to move. "You’re sweating. Beverly, what have you done to yourself?"

"It'll be over in a minute," she promised as he watched in horror as perspiration broke out over her exposed skin. "It's uncomfortable, but really not as bad as it looks. I assure you Will, the danger from hot flashes, low blood pressure and a bruising problem is minimal. It's annoying but I'm fine."

He let the officer part of his mind take over. They were beaming down to less than friendly territory, the Enterprise was hours away and she was physically compromised. He'd asked her to do whatever it was to herself. It did appear that she'd gone beyond the call of duty, but wouldn't they all have done it for the captain? He'd known the captain for seven years and he would put his life on the line for him. Will realized he hadn't really considered how far Beverly would go. "You won't have any problems down on the planet?"

"I'll have a few nasty looking bruises if we get into a scuffle," Beverly admitted as her fingers grew slick with sweat. "My blood pressure is unstable, so I’m not running any marathons. Put too much stress on my circulatory system and you’ll have to have Worf carry me out of whatever trouble we’re in. I’m sorry Will." He felt her grip tighten on his hand. Something was wrong in his gut and he hadn't dealt with it yet. She was too quiet and almost too accepting of the situation. He'd expected her to be more frustrated; she'd fight against her symptoms instead of letting them wash over her. Patient wasn't usually a word he associated with Beverly. Dogged, determined, passionate, fiery...but patient? Accepting? Overly tolerant?

“Sorry?” he repeated softly. “This is temporary, isn’t it? After the mission, you’ll feel better. You can undo whatever you did and you’ll be fine.” The tricorder was off and waited patiently in his hand as he tried not to tighten his jaw with worry. Her eyes opened and she stole her hand from his to wipe the perspiration from her forehead before it ran into her eyes. Grabbing the corner of the sheet, he pulled it down so she could wipe her face.

“I have to admit I didn’t really expect to have to deal with hot flashes for another fifteen years or so,” she observed wryly. Staring past him at the ceiling, she pushed the sheet weakly back into the bunk. “What time is it?”

Glancing over at the chronometer near the door, he stared back as her eyes started to close again. “Almost fourteen hundred,” he told her. “We’ll be in orbit of the planet in half an hour. Deanna and Worf will beam down and make a withdrawal from the Ferengi Commerce Authority Branch on Suuka. You and I will join them when they signal they’re ready. Most likely around fifteen hundred. The Suuka prison has visiting hours--”

She interrupted him and finished the explanation. “Then I see if I can visit the captain. Let him know the plan before we have our time to bargain for him at the Suukan tribunal.” For the first time since he’d entered the cabin, she looked straight at him.

He paused and contemplated the flush in her skin and the dark circles beneath her eyes. “Will you be all right by then?”

“I’ll be fine,” she assured him without looking away. Her expression had the same intensity he was accustomed to. She was hiding something so serious that she seemed to doubt her own ability to find a way to put it into words.

Moving his hand to her shoulder, Will squeezed it reassuringly before he activated the tricorder. Making an effort to keep his tone warm and friendly, “I could order you, if it makes it easier.”

Beverly let her eyes slip closed again and barely swallowed a yawn. “If you scan me, I’ll appear somewhere between ten and twelve weeks pregnant. The reading will fluctuate for the next half hour. At fourteen hundred hours, the emitter will deactivate and my symptoms should improve.”

“When you say appear, you mean you did something to make it look like you’re pregnant, not that you actually are?” he guessed hopefully. When she didn't try to encourage that idea, Will felt like he’d been kicked in the gut. His words came too slowly, like he had to pull them out of his mouth. His fears hadn’t mentioned this. He’d worried she could make an error and make herself ill or that the charade would land them all in a Suukan prison. His stomach turned to a hard knot of ice and his mouth wasn’t working properly. His sudden change in mood alerted Deanna and he felt the echo of her concern adding to his own.

“The tricorder will say I’m pregnant,” Beverly repeated evasively. It was obvious she was exhausted and he could feel her holding back. Normally he wouldn’t have pushed her but he had a duty to know. The away team depended on the success of the component parts.

He pushed his hair off his forehead and felt his jaw tighten. That uncertainty ran all the way down his back like a line of ice becoming solid inside of his spine. “But this isn’t a deception. Whatever you’ve done, this is real. You’re actually pregnant. Beverly, who’s the father?”

Will swallowed hard and felt Deanna’s surprise join his. Trying to calm his mind enough to keep her from charging to his rescue, he focused on his breathing and centered himself, just as she had taught him. “It’s been what, ten, twelve hours since our briefing yesterday? You can’t have become ten weeks pregnant in ten hours. That’s completely impossible.”

“I’m all right,” she assured him. Her hand caught his and stopped it a few centimeters from her stomach. Will immediately felt guilty, as if he was crossing a line. “It’s,”she started. “I- I’m a little sore. Keeping my eyes open too long or lifting my head makes the room start to grey out and I feel like the environmental controls are going haywire. Considering what I’ve done--”

“It doesn’t make any sense,” he stammered. Will repeated what Deanna had taught him, pulling his thoughts together and calming them as if they were waves on the ocean coming to rest. “Hey, Beverly, stay with me. Tell me what you did.”

Squeezing her hand brought her back around and she sighed heavily. “I tried-” she shook her head once from side to side and corrected herself. “I intended to tell you. I, I even thought about asking your permission. I didn’t mean to break the chain of command. Will--”

His mind assembled the pieces in a sudden flash of insight. “You used the captain’s DNA,” he realized abruptly. “You got it from the computer and then came up with some way to speed up development.” He cut himself off and ran his hand through his hair. Shock released its frigid hold on him and gave way to wonder. “You can do that?”

“That was the easy part,” her admission had no pride and simply ended in a sigh. “This planet would have been suspicious if I wasn’t past a certain point of development. I didn’t know, I don’t, I mean I wasn’t sure it would work.” Her tongue ran over her lips and he could see her throat pulse as she swallowed. “I fertilized one of my ova with the captain’s DNA and then impregnated myself with it. In the last ten hours, that embryo has experienced at least ten weeks of development. When the radiation is removed, the embryo will begin to experience time at a normal rate and my condition should stabilize.”

Beverly stopped speaking long enough to bite her lip before she forced her eyes open. “ I didn’t want Deanna to know. I used a variation of what happened to her. I needed to speed it up, make time where I didn’t have any. Will, we’ve never spoken about her son. I didn’t want to tell her, but I had to do it.”

Pain shot up from his memory. He and Deanna had a standing date on Ian’s birthday, in case she needed to talk. He smoothed the thought down and tried to focus on the positive thought that of all the people in the galaxy, Jean-Luc Picard was about to have a child. “What are you going to tell the captain?”

The corner of her mouth actually twitched into something resembling a weak smile. “I don’t know,” she answered gently. Something beeped, then beeped again as it demanded her attention. Her hand deactivated the emitter and slowly removed it from her stomach. Setting it aside on the floor of the Mendel, she lifted her hand to his and surprised him by pulling it down to the soft flesh of her stomach. “It’s all right, Will.” While his hand rested there, she took the tricorder from him and ran the probe over herself. “It should be fine now.”

Lifting herself up on her elbow, she started to roll to her side and stopped short. Her lips were suddenly almost white and her eyes rolled up slightly.

“Hey.” Will halted her and brought his hand to her forehead. “I can read a tricorder, keep your head down before you pass out on me.” He returned the probe to the tricorder and waited for the results. “Eleven weeks, three days, twenty-two minutes--” His great effort to be charming instead of terrified earned him the reward of her surprised laughter.

“No seconds?” she asked lightly.

Shrugging in what he hoped was a passable imitation of Data, he grinned. “Your self diagnosis is correct, doctor.” He said peering at the tricorder before bringing his eyes back to her. “Your blood pressure is eighty-two over thirty-one. Your body temperature is thirty-nine degrees. Your blood chemistry is a mess and there’s an indicator down at the bottom that’s flashing very quickly.”

Pulling in her breath quickly, she took a moment to explain. “Orange triangle, on the very bottom. Fetal heartbeat. Tap it twice and it’ll give you a visual.”

Doing as he was told, Will felt Deanna’s emotional state wash over him like a sudden burst of rain on a summer day. She knew and he couldn’t help wondered if he’d been so surprised he’d accidently projected the thought. She’d been worried about the dark place Beverly’s thoughts had been in since the captain had been declared missing.

He hadn’t given it much thought, he’d been so concerned about the ship and finding the captain that he’d ignored everything else. He’d barely even spoken to Deanna and now exposing her to his unfettered, powerful emotions almost seemed rude. She’d forgive him, she always had, so he pushed that thought aside and lost all others as the tricorder gave him the visual image.

The only image he’d seen of a unborn human had been Deanna’s ill-fated son, Ian. That child had terrified and angered him. Deanna hadn’t been anything more than his very close friend when it happened, but Ian hadn’t been his. On some level that bothered him and he’d barely been able to look at her. How would the captain react when he found out he’d become a father?

This blurry blue and green image on the tricorder was a child that was half Jean-Luc Picard. It had not been created by nature, but simply to bring him freedom. He didn’t envy his captain the gravity of that but on some level, he was jealous of the experience the captain was now going to have. Will knew children might be something in the future for him, at least, that had always been his hope. He didn’t know if it was in the captain’s plans for his life.

“Have you thought about what you’re going to tell him?” he asked before he moved his eyes from the tricorder’s fascinating image. Beverly’s head was tilted slightly to the side and her breathing was slow and regular. Without his attempts to keep her talking, she had fallen asleep. He didn't even know how long he'd been staring at the tricorder's fuzzy image. Lifting the emitter from the carpet, he placed it carefully in the medkit. Taking another look at the tricorder, he smiled at the image before he closed it. He was willing to bet the kid would have red hair.

Letting the door shut behind him, he put a finger over lips and tried not to grin like an idiot at Worf. The big Klingon got his message and nodded once before returning to whatever he was studying on the computer console in front of him. Will hadn’t mentioned it yet but black leather was a good look for him. It brought out the points of his teeth. Worf’s outfit stunning but it wasn’t nearly as much fun as Deanna’s.

Today, she wore something black and skintight, like vinyl that had been sprayed onto her body. Over the black, she wore a filmy green dress that seemed to float above the jumpsuit like fog on the ocean in Alaska. The black layer was so tight he almost expected it to creak when she moved, like Worf, but instead she managed to inhabit it with a special kind of silent grace. His own outfit was green and black to match hers, but it was simpler, almost rakish with tall black boots that came to his knees. Will liked the boots.

Deanna was still at the con. He eyes were fixed straight ahead as if she needed to keep watch for the planet. Part of his joy faded when he realized “I’m sorry, Deanna. I had no intention of projecting anything.”

Her hands remained on the panel and she wouldn’t turn her head towards him. Will squared his shoulders and settled in to wait for her to speak to him. His mind wandered back to the captain. Trying to picture him with a baby barely seemed possible but he liked the idea. He’d known the captain and Beverly were close, possibly even closer than he thought but he would have never taken a bet that they’d have a child together. The odds were too high, even for him. The more he thought about it, the more he realized, at the heart of this odd situation, it was Worf’s fault. That thought brought a chuckle to his throat.

“Is she all right?” She asked as he realized she was looking at him instead of ahead at the window. Deanna had the tracks of tears on her cheeks and more glistening in her eyelashes.

Reaching over the Mendel’s controls, he wrapped her hand entirely in his own and nodded once. “I think so,” he admitted gently. “Deanna, I was just as surprised as you are.”

“Not your fault,” Deanna assured him with quiet certainty. “I knew she was doing something that provoked an incredibly strong response. Her guilt and desperation were almost overwhelming. I thought it was just part of missing the captain. Then I felt you.” She brought his hand to her cheek and held it there for a long moment. “You’re happy.”

He opened his mouth to respond but decided to leave what he was going to say in his mind.

“You’re many things,” she continued as she settled their entwined fingers into her lap and leaned towards him. “I don’t think I’ve felt you that surprised, ever. You’ve decided to channel your feelings and be happy for them. That thought gives you great peace.”

Using the hand that wasn’t in her lap, Will cupped her cheek and stared into her dark, wet eyes. Deanna’s grief was only the first layer of emotion and he didn’t need to know the rest before he reached out to hug her. “Will,” she buried her face in his neck for a long moment before she finished her thought. “Your emotional control has definitely improved over the years. Your choices are very distinct and admirable.”

“It’s just another one of the very good reasons to bring the captain home,” he agreed as he rubbed his hand down her back. The black cloth of her outfit was incredibly soft under his touch. “Just thinking about the look on his face.” Grinning at her, he concentrated on the positive side, picturing the captain trying to calm an infant, or sing it to sleep. That coaxed a smile from her.

Deanna kept that smile and covered his hand on her shoulder with hers. “Will Beverly be all right? What exactly did she do?”

“She’s weak,” he admitted guardedly. “I don’t understand it. We knew she was good.” Shaking his head, Will tried imagine the feat it must have been to speed the development of a fetus that far. “Somehow, overnight, she’s become almost three months pregnant. It doesn’t seem at all possible but it’s right there on the tricorder.” His protective side surfaced and he sighed before he finished. “There were side effects. She’s dizzy, exhausted, shaky...if we didn’t need her I’d order her to stay up here.”

“How did she do it?” Deanna asked them both. “Starfleet medical doesn’t have that kind of technology.”

Fingering his beard helped him think but he had no answers for either of them. “We might never know. This is the captain. Any one of us would give up our lives.” Deanna’s quick nod demonstrated her agreement. “I suppose this is the other side of that equation. In order to save a life, his life, Beverly thought she had to create one.”

Deanna’s eyes softened in sympathy and he knew she understood what he felt. The captain was family to them all. He’d proved he would go to any length for them. Their loyalty knew no boundaries. Captain Picard’s life was sacrosanct and they would bring him back. She accepted that as much as he did.

She had to look away from his gaze before she confronted him. “Your thoughts went to Ian.”

“That was how she did it,” he replied. No amount of gentleness could ease the emptiness Ian had left, even years later. “She copied what Ian, what that being, did to you.”

“Ian did not make me ill,” she reminded him defensively. “He was very careful to leave my body untouched.”

Nodding, Will kept his eyes on her face. “Beverly might be brilliant but she’s not an energy being. So far, what she did seemed to work but I don’t think even she knows how well or at what cost to her health.”

This time it was Deanna who hugged him and her little fingers dug tightly into his shoulders. Her own shoulders were still, and the crying had passed, but he thought he could feel the tension and weight of her grief in her body.

“It’s going to be all right,” he promised sincerely. He didn’t know how. He wasn’t even sure why he had so much faith but he knew, regardless of what happened on the planet, he was going to make this all right. No matter what he had to do. Even just so he could invite Lwaxana on board to congratulate the captain.

Deanna must have felt that thought as well because he was certain he was feeling her chuckle.


Chapter Four

Being imprisoned was only the latest part of a very odd shore leave, Jean-Luc thought to himself as he straightened his back against the wall. He’d simply intended to take a look at the ruins north of this city. It was purportedly the ruins of some kind of ancient Vulcan colony, long deserted and mostly forgotten, but the Enterprise had been nearby and he’d been unable to resist the chance to take a look.

Baran and his band of smugglers had appeared on the fifth day. Only luck and the fact that he wasn’t wearing his communicator had prevented him from being killed on sight. Baran had murdered his science officer. Though the smuggler captain immediately hated Jean-Luc’s alter-ego Galen, he’d stayed alive because he was useful.

Lifting the metal cup of water to his mouth, Jean-Luc drank the weak tea that arrived with his bread, squash and cheese lunch with a grimace. It tasted faintly of wet grain instead of real tea but that flavor was better than the primitive, chemically purified taste of the water. The squash was bright green and overcooked. The cheese was grey and shot with stripes of pink but it was the most palatable.

After his processing and medical examination, he was shown to a small, box-like cell. Feeling like a main character from one of his favorite old Earth novels, he’d been trying to make the best of things. Practicing tai’chi and the handful of mok’bara moves he’d learned from Worf, kept him busy for a few hours but his mind wasn’t in it.

In this cell, his mind was the traitor that kept him from doing anything useful. He’d expected his crew to look for them. It would be difficult, now that he had Baran’s control device in his neck, for any kind of rescue if the smuggler was still free. He’d been offered the opportunity to watch the device kill Baran’s science officer immediately after they’d landed. Jean-Luc had personally felt the torturous burning of the plasma energy set his veins on fire. The reptilian police force had taken the control device from Baran, but they seemed to have no plans to remove his implant.

Riker and his team were looking for him. Were he in the position of his number one, he’d certainly risk his own life to find his officer. He had no doubt his staff would volunteer their lives for him as well. He’d been with the smugglers how long? Eight, nine days? It hadn’t taken long for them to find him, especially considering how the might of the Enterprise would be hampered in nonaligned space.

Their attempt to buy him from Baran was almost as impressive as their costumes. He’d barely recognized Worf and Deanna from across the room yesterday and he’d been too far back to know what points Deanna was using to negotiate. According to T’Lera’s superior hearing, it had something to do with the human woman, Beverly, being ill. That seemed indeed to be the case when Beverly had disappeared from the negotiations, apparently under the ruse of being nauseated.

Whatever ingenious plan his crew had come up with, he was unfortunately not going to get to find out what it was. He knew a smattering of facts about the Suuka from diplomatic seminars and scattered briefings. Their legal system was strict and incredibly quick to impose capital punishment, however it was not entirely unreasonable. Will had Data, Deanna and Starfleet records to assist him. He would have to trust them to get him out.

From what he knew of Suukan law, he’d have one hearing to determine his worth, then their decision would be final. He was beginning to wonder how that trial would go when one of the reptilian guards appeared outside of the metal door keeping him in his cell. The guard pressed a low-pitched chime once out of some kind of respect before she opened the simple grey door. “Galen, prisoner of the Suuka, you have a visitor. Do you wish to receive her?”

Getting to his feet, he straightened his brown leather tunic prison out of habit. “Yes,” he answered simply.

“You have ten minutes,” the guard replied calmly. “You will be watched but not listened to. I will return to retrieve her. If you harm her, you will be killed.”

“Simple enough,” Jean-Luc murmured. Crossing his arms over his chest, he brought his hand to his chin and paced the two meters his cell. He was looking out the window, expecting to hear Deanna’s voice before he turned back towards the door as it opened.

“Jean-Luc!” The voice turned his name into a gasp. His ears almost burned at the sound of the very familiar voice. “Jean-Luc, are you all right?”

Whipping around in surprise, the first thing he saw was Beverly’s hand gripping the door frame with white knuckles. Her hair was several shades darker and pulled harshly back in a way that made her skin look terribly pale. Her clothing was unfamiliar, some kind of green civilian jumpsuit and copper overcoat, but she was Beverly Crusher.

Licking her lips as she took a step into his cell, he saw her waver slightly before she reached the wall of his cell to steady her.

“Beverly,” he began with her name and felt almost foolish staring at her the way he was. “I thought you’d be Deanna.”

“I almost wish I was,” she replied mysteriously. She licked her lips again and seemed to struggling against something. Her skin was naturally pale, but today it seemed unhealthily so, and her lips were nearly as devoid of color. The dark circles under her eyes were pronounced and evoked a rush of sympathy. It was obvious to him that she had slept little, perhaps even for the last several days.

Indicating the small, hard bed with his hand, he tried to sit her down. “Please,” he begged her and extended his hand towards hers when she didn’t move. “Doctor, Beverly, are you all right?”

“I just asked you Captain,” she teased him without taking a step towards the bed.

“I assure you I am uninjured,” he promised her quickly. “Please, sit.” Taking the initiative and grabbing her hand across the bed, he tugged gently and to his surprise nearly pulled her the last fraction of a meter to the bed. Grasping her other arm by the elbow, he managed to guide her, however ungracefully, down to the bed. Beverly nearly collapsed down to it and only bracing himself on the wall prevented him from falling on top of her before he regained his balance.

“Sorry, didn’t expect it to get this bad.” Her voice was almost a whisper and it seemed to take a great act of will to force her eyes back open. “I’m glad you’re well. It is very good to see you.”

“Beverly!” he chided firmly as he crouched down to look up at her. “What’s happened to you? Are you having some kind of allergic reaction to that gas they used yesterday? Why did Will let you remain on the mission if you-”

“-If I can barely keep myself on my feet?” she finished for him wryly. Her blue eyes were fixed on his face but there were no answers in them, only a new and almost frightening kind of desperation. “I’m afraid my presence is necessary, if potentially unwise.”

“Potentially unwise?” he repeated in disgust. “Your explanation had better be a hell of a lot better than that.”

“Yes, sir,” she responded reflexively with a maddening smile. “My apologies Captain. How would you like me to make my report?”

“Quickly, Doctor,” he snapped as he got back to his feet and resumed pacing just to have something to do other than glare at her.

Beverly’s head dropped back against the wall, as if to keep it from spinning. She swallowed with difficulty before she spoke. “Will’s leading Deanna, Worf and I on a rescue mission. Deanna was nearly successful in our attempt to buy you from Baran, then you were taken prisoner. We have altered the plan accordingly and believe we can have you released this evening, when the Suuka hear your case, sir.”

Pausing for what he thought was only a moment, she groaned softly and he whirled around in time to watch her head drop down into her hands. Taking a step towards her, he narrowly stopped himself from dragging her up and decided that observation might give him more answers.

When she regained her equilibrium, she finished speaking with her head down. “The runabout Mendel is waiting for us in orbit. Commander Data took the Enterprise on an escort mission near the Badlands. We will rendezvous with him there once we have recovered you, sir.” Even finishing her report seemed to be a great effort and her sigh at the end was genuinely exhausted.

Regretting his frustration, Jean-Luc shoved it down. His stomach knotted in hot concern and the flush of his sympathy ran up his neck uncomfortably. “Beverly,” he began as gently as he could. “What’s happened to you?” She didn't answer immediately and he had to bite his lip to keep from badgering her. When he reached for her cheek to draw her attention, he found it covered in sweat. Pulling his hand down, she held it in her lap.

"I'm sorry," she murmured again before she lifted her head. Now her skin was unnaturally flushed pink instead of pale. "I thought they’d passed. They've been getting less frequent. Must've stood up too long when the guards searched me."

“What’s wrong with you?” he probed carefully. Beverly was still having some trouble holding up her head, so he caught her chin and steadied it. Her eyes were bright but unfocused and she brought her hands to his shoulders. “Some kind of illness or fever?”

Her fingers dug into his shoulders, searching for support. “I’m suffering side effects,” she answered with frustration harshening her voice. “My blood pressure’s dropping at random and I keep getting hit with these damn hot flashes. I expected the dizziness, but the hot flashes should have stopped by now.”

Running his thumb along her chin, he tried to smile at her. “I don’t know much about medicine,” he reminded her with a shrug. “I nearly failed first aid at the Academy because my instructor thought I lacked empathy for my patients. I’m not going to be able to guess. Beverly, I need you to tell me.”

Her head dropped to his shoulder and her left hand slid down his back. He could feel the sweat on her forehead as it touched his neck and the unsteadiness of her hand against his spine. “I’m afraid,” she sighed. After a moment of hesitation, he wrapped his arms closer around her and leaned back against the wall.

Holding her was not a new experience, but she’d been closer lately, more affectionate. They’d danced around each other since she’d returned to the Enterprise and for the last few years something had been changing. They’d be growing closer and the insubstantial music that guided them had been slowing in response. Perhaps this was the next phase, something untried.

His voice seemed to belong to someone else as he asked, “Have you been exposed to something dangerous?” Speaking was too difficult for her and she let the question hang unanswered. “Beverly, you are one of the bravest people I know, just what are you afraid of?”

“I only have a few minutes left,” she sighed and seemed to steel herself from within. “We needed to find something. Some way to keep you safe.” Lifting her head slightly as if she was trying it out, she dropped it to his shoulder again. “Worf was just trying to get information. It spiraled and we just kept lying. Getting in deeper each time we talked to the smugglers until we finally ran into the Suuka. We couldn’t lie anymore.”

Holding her shoulders, he tried to imagine what she was possibly having trouble saying. “They seem to have that affect on most people,” Jean-Luc agreed dryly. “Beverly, you may just need to trust that whatever you have to tell me is something our relationship, whatever it may be, can survive.” He could feel the excessive heat of her body through his clothing and the slow movement of her chest beneath his arms.

Her voice was barely audible. “I just wanted to bring you home. I couldn't-I can’t lose you.”

“I assure you,” he replied with a touch of irony as he looked around the dull walls of his cell. “I’m not going anywhere.”

She kept her head down, still against his shoulder. “I’m pregnant,” she announced simply. “ The fetus has experienced nearly three months of development. My symptoms are a result of the procedure I had to use to create that time.”

Lifting her head with his hands, he brought her eyes level with his. He could find no trace of dementia or falsehood, only a quiet desperation that gnawed at his heart. “Beverly?”

“You’re the father.”

Jolting away from her in surprise, he forgot how unsteady she was. Beverly pulled herself up to a sitting position on her own, bracing her feet against the bed and hugging her knees to her chest.

“That’s impossible,” he snapped viciously. “And I don’t need to tell you that.” Anger flowed up from an unknown place in his psyche, blasting through his mind like a wildfire. His cell wasn’t big enough to pace, not with the inferno of thought blackening his mind. Looking everywhere but her, he finally stopped, arms stiffly at his sides as he tried to reign in his heart.

“When I left the Enterprise two weeks ago you were in perfect health and certainly not carrying my child. Even if it were somehow within the capabilities of medical science for a pregnancy to progress at the speed you suggest, using my DNA against my will to create a child is completely-”

“Unforgivable?” she asked as she stared past him at the bare floor. Taking a deep breath, she slowly started to stand. Bringing her feet back to the floor was an astonishing act of will and with one hand on the wall, Beverly stared him down. Part of her unnaturally dark hair was plastered to her forehead with drying sweat, but the pink had completely left her cheeks. “Jean-Luc, in one half hour the Suuka will question you. Make whatever argument you wish but Deanna, Will and I are going to risk our lives to bring you home because we need you. So will this child.”

Her icy stare was nearly enough to stop the stinging fire of betrayal. Something was beneath his anger and facing that was almost more terrifying than anything he’d known. Children mystified, frightened and filled him with the same kind of wonder as a black hole. As Wesley and numerous others had demonstrated, the potential to change the universe was nearly as powerful. He didn’t dislike or fear them as he once had.

If he’d been asked to choose one woman in the galaxy to share that experience with, it went without saying that Beverly was first in his heart. Without being asked his permission or being involved in the conception, he now had a responsibility to a being that would quite probably last the rest of his life.

There wasn’t a way to say that, at least, none that he knew. Beverly’s gaze was still on him but it was softening. No matter what happened, she was still his best friend.

“I fear I lack the time to respond properly,” he began apologetically with a tug on his tunic. “Please understand that my emotional response at this moment is without the kind of reflection this situation most urgently requires.” Shaking his head quickly, he brought a hand to the back of his head and tried to force everything into perspective. “I don’t think I’ve mentioned it to you yet, but I’ve recently started to believe that having a child is an experience I do wish to have.”

The same low pitched chime from before announced the return of the reptilian guard.

Beverly’s smile was gentle and there was a peace in it he found incredibly appealing. “Be careful what you wish for,” she murmured.

Jean-Luc could see the green ridges of the guard through the tiny window in the door. “Indeed,” he replied ruefully while taking a step towards her.

“It seems our time is up,” Beverly reminded him as the door started to open. It happened in an instant and, though he had no idea she was currently capable of moving that quickly, he should have known better than to underestimate her. In contrast to the way her skin had felt minutes ago, her lips were cool against the left side of his mouth. It wasn’t a passionate, Shakespearean kiss, but it was definitely something more than friendly.

Pleasure mixed with the myriad other emotions overwhelming his heart, reminding him that the human experience was richly varied as the stars themselves. Perhaps also as surprising he mused as he watched her from the door of his cell until she was long out of sight.

The Suukan court was the darkest she’d ever seen because the reptilian race relied little on visible light as part of their sight. In the semidarkness, Deanna tried to relax in her seat as she watched Will step up the Suukan witness stand. The seat in the middle of the court was lower than the rest, giving it an arena-like feel with a knot of darkness in the center. The lighting around it was weakest or all, giving the witness the effect of testifying in the dark to a circle of silhouettes.

The three Suukan jurors were seated in a semicircle along the back of the room. According to Worf, the thermal abilities they relied on functioned just as well in near darkness as they would in daylight. As the purported leader, Deanna had gone first.

The questions posed her had been simple enough. She’d identified Will as her beloved and avoiding the direct use of the word husband had kept her on the side of the truth. It was true that Worf had been her protector for the last seven years and that Beverly had seen to her needs medically for most of that time. It was true that Beverly outranked her, and was no subordinate servant, but language allowed for many nuances.

“Human male,” the bailiff began the ritual swearing in. “Do you understand and accept that all testimony you give, all words that you say, must be true, under pain of immediate death?”

“I do,” Will replied with a quick nod of his head.

The central juror acknowledged him and began his line of questioning. “Please begin by affirming your relationship to the female, Deanna.”

“Deanna is my imzadi,” Will explained to the court. She could feel his confidence and the underlying fear of failing his captain, but he was projecting quiet acceptance of the proceedings, as befitted the husband of a Betazoid trader. “For the last ten years, she has been beloved of my heart. I would follow her anywhere.”

One of the jurors tilted his head to the left, the motion was what passed for a nod among the Suuka and Deanna realized the fact of matter was now closed. On this planet, Will was her husband.

“And your sister?” the central juror continued.

“Beverly is intelligent, beautiful and deeply important to me. I love her as my sister. As long as it is in my power, I will never let anything unseemly befall her,” Will testified. Deanna could feel his thoughts change. He was calling up his fears and letting them play over his face as if he was trying to suppress them.

“You are afraid for her?”

Will nodded quickly and shifted as if his chair had suddenly become uncomfortable. “It is my fear that she loves this man,” he explained. Pointing at the captain, he brought up only his concern for Beverly. The intensity of that emotion only reinforced how ill Beverly must have been. She’d been avoiding Deanna and though it pained her to admit it, Deanna had been allowing her to do so.

There were rare moments when Deanna’s training and instincts both failed her but whenever she touched Beverly’s mind she immediately wanted to pull away. Even now, Beverly’s emotions pulsed in the background noise of the room like a vein bleeding itself dry. She’d seen the captain, alone as she had wished and Deanna had been too close. The rage and betrayal the captain felt had washed over her like a phaser blast. The captain’s thoughts were too intense and unfocused to be kept out of her head. Beverly’s thoughts were only now slowly stabilizing, as if they’d been struck by a hurricane that was starting to ease.

Wrapping herself in the comfortingly familiar space of Will’s mind had been the safest way to stay grounded. Usually it was something he only noticed in a vague sense and over the years, he’d grown comfortable with it. Like the couch in his quarters, it seemed his mind was open to her any time.

Even now in court, Deanna needed to depend on the relative safety of his thoughts. The minds of the jurors were rational, calm, and even bored. The case of a smuggler was of little importance to them. He was not known to be a killer, and she sensed the juror on the left was already more than happy to release Galen to her custody and be done with the matter.

“He claims to be unprepared to parent a child,” Will continued. “I don’t think any male of my species ever feels they are ready for that responsibility. I can’t control his actions but I believe my sister needs him to help her through this. As someone who loves her, I believe she would suffer greatly in his absence.”

“What of the smuggler?” The third juror asked. “What do you know of this man?”

“In a way, very little,” Will answered truthfully. Deanna could feel his concentration strengthen, though none of it was in his face. Wondering if his poker face stood up as well to the Suuka as it would to a human, she tried to project how proud she was of him. “He is a man who guards his heart tightly. What I know of his heart, I know from my sister and however foolishly, she loves him.”

Beverly’s emotions spiked and Deanna knew she needed to know why. The intensity of Beverly’s darkness while the captain had been missing was only rivaled by Will’s self-loathing and feeling of failure. Jean-Luc Picard was the father figure Will had lacked most of his life. Failing him was unacceptable and Will’s mind had grown dark. His position as acting captain had made him her first responsibility and she’d hadn’t had time to see to everyone.

Perhaps part of this was her fault, maybe if she had reached out to Beverly earlier, been conscious of her emptiness before she’d gone to such drastic steps. What had she been doing their last night on the Enterprise where the creation of a new life had missed her notice? Deanna knew it was foolish to hold herself responsible for the actions of the crew while she was sleeping, she couldn’t possibly be everywhere at once. That knowledge did nothing to assuage her guilt because Beverly was her friend. Something as intense as the mental anguish that must have come before the conception of this child should have been something she could read.

Maybe she hadn’t realized it because even Beverly didn’t know what she was feeling. Unfocused emotions were the most difficult to read. Her feelings for the captain had been buried so long they were nearly out of control. Like searching a neglected garden, it was difficult to identify which flowers had the intoxicating smell. In Beverly’s mind, attraction, friendship, pain and guilt had to coexist. Losing the captain had been more than her psyche was able to bear. The child within her had been the only way Beverly could live with herself. Caring for new life, life that was part of the captain, had been the only way she had to keep going.

Will’s spike in emotion brought Deanna back from Beverly’s thoughts. Beyond his stress, Will was amused. The juror’s last question had struck a pleasant nerve. “I can promise my loyalty. My sister will have the complete support of my beloved and I. Should this man decide to own up to his responsibility, he will have my full support as well. I believe he has the potential to be an excellent father.”

The bailiff grabbed Will’s shoulder and dismissed him by sending him back to his seat next to Deanna. Taking his hand back to her lap wasn’t part of their performance, but it calmed them both. Beverly fidgeted in her seat, expecting to be called next. Instead, the reptilian bailiff nudged the captain down into the center of the darkened room.

The jurors apparently did not need to speak to each other to understand their states of mind and merely spent a moment engaging each other’s eyes, as if participating in some kind of three-way staring contest. As someone who had grown up with silent communication, Deanna was the least bothered. The captain’s mind was actively nervous, mostly for his crew’s ability to escape but the knot at the center was about Beverly. Something old and deeply engrained in his consciousness was starting to exert itself.

The central juror began Picard’s questioning. “How long have you known the human female, Beverly?”

“Over twenty years,” he replied. His eyes were locked on Beverly’s dark silhouette and his nervousness was starting to take form in his mind.

The left juror, the one Deanna was fairly certain was female, continued the questioning. “In your species, this is long enough to become emotionally attached to her?”


“When did you learn she was gestating your offspring?”

Will swallowed his poorly placed amusement and he turned his eyes to Deanna instead of keeping them on the captain.

Deanna heard the dryness in the captain voice as he answered the question. His tone was barely audible as he whispered,“Today.”

“If you had known of her condition, would you have become involved with Captain Baran?”

“I wouldn’t have left the ship,” the captain answered sharply.

“As it is apparent, she has followed you here,” the third juror’s tone was an admonishing one. “This planet is not considered to be safe for your species. Your actions have placed your mate in danger. If you are released, this behavior cannot continue.”

Deanna didn’t need to see the captain’s face to picture his expression.

“I can assure you I have learned my lesson,” he replied with as much dry control as a Vulcan desert.

Denial was one of the most prevalent of human emotions. Occasionally it was so strong it felt like a veil over the minds of her colleagues. It had been especially strong when she’d walked into the room. She suspected too many things had gone unsaid between Beverly and the captain. It didn’t seem to matter that they couldn’t see each other, or that they were under polite, yet extreme duress. Their joint denial was a heavy fog over both of their minds. As that fog lifted, it was akin to watching the sun burn the morning steam off Lake Elnar on Betazed.

Will’s sudden surge of curiosity made her realize there were tears in her eyes. Squeezing Will’s hand, she leaned in close enough to feel his ear against her lips. “I wish you could feel this,” she murmured before she dropped her forehead to his cheek and let him hug her closer.

The central juror leaned forward and finally asked, “Is the emotional attachment between you and your mate strong enough to be considered love?”

“I do love her,” he admitted candidly.

Clarity was one of the most beautiful sides of human emotion. The final distillation of what was truly in the heart was a distinct pleasure most telepaths were completely unable to explain to others. Like a perfect sunset, or the wash of a wave across the sand, this was a fleeting, consummate moment of lucidity where all was right with the universe.

Hearing the captain say it aloud was simply overkill. His thoughts had already settled and reformed to include his love as a relevant part of his consciousness.

Picard straightened in his chair and all traces of the smuggler persona he’d been carrying faded from his posture. He was not Galen, nor the great captain of the Enterprise, as he sat in the darkness he was simply a man. Jean-Luc Picard had been carrying the burden of his feelings so long that admitting them was like seeing himself in a mirror for the first time in his life. That which looked back at him was more beautiful and terrible than he could have imagined.

“I have had these feelings for many years,” he continued without taking his gaze from Beverly’s silhouetted form. “In all likelihood I will continue to feel this way until my death. Though it has been a great shock to me, I can give you my solemn word that I will try to integrate my responsibilities as a father into my life to the best of my abilities.”

The moment of staring and silent confirmation between the jurors lasted barely a minute. The grandeur of Picard’s thoughts faded into the meditative acceptance he always returned to as his center.

Will’s thoughts were split evenly between support and a deep sense of intimacy. His loyalty to his friends was paramount and he’d been sincere in his love for both of them. His feelings radiated out from him like an aura of golden light. Deanna was used to sharing the love of those she cared about, it was commonplace on Betazed to be in the midst of deep and wondrous emotion. Most humans were more private, Beverly and the captain both registered a sense of invasion, even if the results had been pleasant, they’d both been exposed.

Will’s thumb removed her tears from her cheek and that motion drew her back into character.

“I believe that settles the matter,” Deanna broke the silence with a hint of regal impatience. “Allow me to make restitution for the resources this man has cost your world and we will be on your way. I can assure you this man will not trouble you again.”

The power of the silence as the jurors communicated was so strong it almost felt like a buzzing in the air. The crimson forcefield sealing them into the courtroom disappeared with a snap. Apparently, the court’s answer was simply to open the door into the artificial light of the hallway and let it stream in. The three jurors remained in place for the next hearing, but Deanna and her colleagues had been released.

The bailiff inclined his head to the left and turned to Deanna before he spoke. “Restitution can be made by the entrance,” he informed her as he glanced down at the padd in his hand. “The price of this human’s freedom has been set at fifty-five bars of latinum. The final price when his decorum and behavior have been taken into account is forty-two bars, six slips of latinum.”

“Not bad,” Will mused as he hovered at her side. “Discounts for good behavior.”

When Beverly was slow to get to her feet, Will left Deanna to offer his support and she then watched as the captain waved him off. With understated gallantry, Picard offered his newly freed hand to the woman he’d just admitted was the love of his life. Beverly’s restrained relief was humming in her mind but absent from her face. She was stoic, her expression still and elegantly porcelain but her fingers clung gratefully to his arm.

Deanna was so buried in their minds that she missed the first wave of alarm. The torrent of fear and bloodlust washed into her mind a few seconds before the sirens began to sound. For a moment, it was eerily quiet except the sirens. The corridor they were in only had one exit, up the stairway to the right, and there was smoke starting to creep down the stairs. Tension and fear wiped all the relief from their minds.

Will led the way up the stairs, Deanna was a few steps behind him and both of them kept checking for the other two. Exiting the basement that held the courtroom put them in the large open atrium that was the entrance to the prison complex. Outside the transparisteel windows, it was already dark and orange phaser fire lit up the night.

“Get down,” Worf’s low voice cut through the high pitched sirens of alarm. He’d been outside. Joining them would have required that he disarm and he’d been adamantly opposed to that. Even the Suuka had cause to respect Klingons and he’d been allowed to remain armed as long as he remained in the lobby.

Now his black leather clad form was a protective wall between them and the phaser fire creeping in from outside. Will and Deanna dropped to a crouch by the wall behind him and Worf led them behind an abandoned desk for cover. Passing Will and Deanna their phasers, he left the relative safety of the desk to provide cover for the captain and doctor.

Will pounded his communicator and listened for the automatic response of the Mendel. Leaning close to Deanna as he peered over the desk, he explained, “Communications are blocked. Phasers are working so we’re not in one of those damn dampening fields, but we need to get clear of the building to contact the runabout.”

When Beverly nodded in agreement, Worf handed the captain what had been Beverly’s phaser and drew a smaller one from his boot to pass to her. “It is good to see you again, sir,” he grunted with a toothy smile.

“Black suits you Lieutenant,” the captain teased dryly as he dropped down next to Will behind the desk. “It is good to see all of you, but allow me hold my thanks until my rescue has been completed.”

“How many men were left on Baran’s ship?” Worf asked as he kept a count of the Suukan guards around them.

“Five,” the captain reported. “But they could have easily hired mercenaries on this planet to increase their number.”

The highly charged emotions of those fighting their way in were disorganized enough to be mercenaries. Deanna nodded and agreed with him. “Their minds don’t feel professional or focused.”

Picard agreed with a grimace, “Thugs.”

Peering over the edge as long as he dared, Will sank back down and met Worf’s eyes. “I count at least twenty out there,” Will offered shortly. “Maybe more. I only see a handful of guards in here.”

The captain looked from his number one to his security chief. “Options?”

Worf pondered the situation for a moment before he reported to his plan. “The attacking force seems focused on the main entrance,” he said pointing with his phaser to clarify. “The smaller entrance to the north is being jointly ignored by both sides.”

“All right,” the captain agreed as he followed Worf’s gaze. “Deanna, do you sense anyone lying in wait in that direction?”

Trying to focus her mind was easier than listening to the whine of phaser fire be interrupted only by the heavy sound of bodies hitting the floor. The sense of bloodlust, greed and fear was much weaker to the north. “The bulk of the force is at the main entrance,” she agreed.

Worf’s body tensed beside her and he seemed ready to go. “The commander and I will clear the way.”

“I’ll assist the doctor,” Picard volunteered and Deanna felt his unwillingness to let her out of reach lance through him. Beverly’s eyes were clear but her unsteadiness was lying just beneath the surface.

“I’ll be last,” Deanna promised. Will’s concern flared for a moment but disappeared beneath his sense of duty.

Will glanced around the knot of faces once. “We should only need to get ten or fifteen meters from the building to clear the dampening field.” His smile as he finished was icy. “When we’re clear, we can get the hell out of here.”

Picard nodded. Will and Worf fired twice at the doorway before they broke into a run. Getting to her knees and laying down covering fire with the captain, Deanna felt her heartbeat three times as hard as normal as adrenaline surged through her. Will was through the door and checking the alley when Worf nodded to the captain and started clearing the way with his phaser.

Deanna concentrated on the main doorway and watched for flashes of movement that represented parts of the invading mercenary force. She felt the captain’s wave of concern for Beverly like an electric current. It was still buzzing in her head when the explosion bathed the right half of her body in heat.

Frustrated with the progress they were making at the door, one of the mercenaries had lobbed an explosive device into the southern corner of the building. Stone and seared metal dust were still in the air when the mercenaries poured into the building from the south. In the same unlucky moment, Suukan reinforcements appeared from the prison on the west side of the lobby.

The captain and doctor had their backs to Deanna as she crawled out of the scorched remains of what had been her cover. Backpedaling to catch up to them, she watched as a shot from her phaser took one of the smugglers in the chest and felled him. Phaser fire flew past, singeing her hair as she fired again. Worf ran towards her, putting his bulk between the captain and the attacker’s new line of fire.

Deanna could tell the familiar mind directly behind her was Beverly’s. It wouldn’t have mattered who it was. She would have held her ground to protect any one of her shipmates, knowing it was Beverly just made it that much easier to shove her instincts to the back of her mind.

It happened in less than an instant. Turning into the blast, Deanna made herself as much of a target as possible. The smuggler’s mind burst with triumph as his brilliant phaser beam charred its way into her chest. Pain like she’d never felt, a kind of vivid agony, sang through her mind as her knees buckled. Without feeling the impact in any part of her body, she hit the rubble that had once been the floor.


Chapter Five

Worf’s incredibly strong hands plucked her out of a hell of phaser fire and dragged her around the corner into the relative safety of the alley. “I’m all right,” Beverly assured him breathlessly as he deposited her behind the corner of another building. “Get Deanna,” she begged him as she felt the fear and desperation cloud her mind. Tears were stinging her eyes and the smoke in her throat had ripped it apart. “She was right there.”

Worf was already gone. Jean-Luc was in his place, checking her for injuries as he held her face. “Deanna!” she urged him, trying to shake him off and convince him she was all right. “You have to get Deanna.”

Satisfied that she was uninjured, Jean-Luc hauled her back to her feet and pressed her against the wall as an errant phaser blast fried the air behind them. “Can you get out of the dampening field?”

Forcing herself to nod, she pulled herself away from the wall and started running down the alley. Adrenaline made each breath and the beating of her heart possible, but her peripheral vision was nearly gone and the numbness that had been toying with her extremities had now completely taken them over. Jean-Luc had told her to run, and she was going to run until she was safe.

Fifteen meters wasn’t that far, but it felt like an eternity. The hands that slammed into her knees when her dizziness made running impossible were completely numb. Cold sweat covered her skin and she swayed on her feet. Slamming her hand into the communicator in the pocket of her coat, Beverly heard the comforting reply of the Mendel’s computer.

“Auto-transport acknowledged.”

“Set timer for sixty-seconds,” she answered. Stumbling back towards the dirty steel wall of one of the cheap warehouses that filled this section of the town, she sank down against it. Pulling her phaser from her pocket, she pointed it around the corner and waited for her crewmates.

Jean-Luc was the first one to reach her and he threw himself down next to her. Clutching his right arm to his chest, he held his phaser in his left hand and kept it aimed around the corner at the alley. “The runabout?” he asked breathlessly.

She could only nod, her breath hadn’t returned to a point where she could speak. His brown tunic was singed on his right side. The lighting in the alley was weak and her eyesight was too damaged to diagnose his injury.

“Superficial,” he promised her as he followed her gaze to the wound on his side.

Will and Worf appeared a moment later. Deanna’s limp body was tossed over Will’s shoulder and Worf was dragging them both. Even through the acrid smoke in her nose, she could smell the blood suffusing Will’s tunic. Will dropped to his knees and Jean-Luc lunged forward to help catch Deanna as her unconscious body fell from his shoulders.

Tumbling to her knees, Beverly pressed her nearly useless hands over the wound in chest. The heat of Deanna’s blood brought feeling back to her hands momentarily as the transporter caught them. For a moment of bliss, Beverly felt nothing, not Deanna bleeding out beneath her hands nor the rolling sensation in her own skull.

As they rematerialized in a heap of limbs together on the transporter pad of the Mendel, everything came back in a rush of suffering. In the cramped space the air immediately began to fill with the smell of blood. Worf detangled himself first and ran to the controls. Jean-Luc’s phaser clanked to the pad and Will’s head nearly hit her elbow as he ran for the med kit.

“Her heart’s beating,” Beverly promised Jean-Luc before he asked. With her hand pressed against Deanna’s chest she could feel every precious jolt of her ribs. “I can’t stop the bleeding.”

“Here,” Jean-Luc’s left hand took over for hers. His right hand reached for her coat, and even with his injury he managed to help her shrug it off. Pressing the heavy material to Deanna’s chest, Jean-Luc was able to put much greater pressure on Deanna’s injury than she’d been able to.

Will returned with the medkit. Beverly fumbled with the clasp for a moment. It wasn’t the blood on her hands that was causing the problem, her hands just weren’t functioning as they should. Will’s eyes were haunted as if the life had been sucked completely out of them. She could still move her fingers, slowly, but fine motor control was beyond her abilities. Finally, Will had to open the med kit for her.

Jean-Luc watched her fumble with the medical tricorder and brought her out of it. “Beverly?”

“I can’t feel my fingers,” she whispered as she bit her lip. Through the blood covering them she could see that the skin beneath was entirely white. “Jean-Luc, my circulatory system is going into shock. It’s not life-threatening.” She snapped as she stared down at the pool of blood darkening the transporter pad.

“She needs blood,” she demanded as she glared at Will. The blood beneath Deanna was getting less red in her vision. Jean-Luc’s tunic was starting to look grey instead of brown. Her blood pressure was failing to the point where her eyesight was starting to go. “Or plasma, Betazoid type ZA positive, as much as you can get from the replicator.”

Will didn’t move. Watching Deanna bleed out had shell-shocked him. Jean-Luc nudged him with his elbow.

“Blood,” Will replied as he slipped past her and ran for the replicator in the back of the cabin.

“We’ll need to keep pressure up long enough to repair the damage,” she continued for the captain’s benefit. “The auto-transfuser looks like a small grey and green pump. Plasma or blood is attached to round gasket on the top of the device.”

Keeping his stronger left hand on Deanna’s wound, Jean-Luc turned to dig in the med kit with his right. “Beverly, circulatory failure is not to be taken lightly,” he chastised her as he turned back with the device. Curling into a ball, she dropped her head between her knees and tried to force the blood back into her extremities.

“My blood volume didn’t increase fast enough. I thought I’d compensated,” she explained weakly when he wouldn’t take his eyes off of her. “I’ll be fine,” she assured him firmly. “My body’s pulling blood from my extremities, trying to protect the fetus. I’ll be fine but I can’t perform surgery. My hands, my eyes, Jean-Luc, I’m losing the ability to see.”

His concern boarded on a terror she could recognize in the set of his jaw but his commitment to duty kept him functioning. “Mister Worf,” he called towards the con. “How long to the Enterprise at maximum warp?”

“Fourteen hours, sir,” Worf replied sharply from the front of the runabout. “I have signaled Commander Data, if he can, he will meet us halfway.”

Jean-Luc nodded to Will as he returned with the first armful of blood. “Beverly,” he nudged her. “Can you keep her alive that long?”

“I’ll try,” she sighed heavily and tried to focus. Even with her eyesight slipping away from a lack of blood pressure, she could see Deanna’s lips going grey. She could hear her friend’s respiration slow and weaken. Her own head was starting to roll as if the runabout was trapped in a deep dive.

“Will,” Jean-Luc ordered as he finished attached the auto-infuser to the large vein of Deanna’s thigh. “Get Beverly to put her head down. We need her conscious to save Deanna.”

Will’s mute hands wrapped around her shoulders, pulled her out of the transporter alcove and guided her down to the deck. Lying centimeters from Deanna, she could no longer see her, but she could still hear Deanna’s respiration faltering.

“You need to regulate her breathing,” Beverly urged him as she shut her eyes against the lights on the ceiling. “Tune the neural stimulator to setting three, put it on her forehead.” Will disappeared into the back of the cabin and returned to drape a blanket over her stomach and lift her legs. “Jean-Luc, how are your hands?”

“They’re fine,” he replied as he finished with the stimulator. “Her breathing’s getting better, blood pressure is passing ninety over forty but the wound’s still bleeding.”

Without the ability to check the injury, she had to guess. “Her vena cava must be nicked,” she thought aloud. “If it were the aorta, she’d be dead by now. Jean-Luc--” Swallowing helped clear her voice, but she was tired. Her brain barely wanted to function. “Jean-Luc, I need you to read the medical tricorder to me or have Will hold it where I can see it.”

“Will,” the captain’s voice cut through the fog surrounding him. “Help her see.”

Years of experience helped her recognize what she was seeing, even with the color leeching out of her vision, she could tell what they needed to do. Wrapping her hands around Will’s arm was useless, but it made her feel like she was doing something on her own.

“Aside for her left lung, her major organs are intact,” she reported with a weak smile of relief. “Her left lung has collapsed and the vena cava has been seared. After you heal the vascular damage you can re-inflate her lung.”

“What do we do?” Jean-Luc prodded her as he attached a second bag of blood to the auto-infuser.

Blinking once, she managed to clear her eyes slightly. Picturing Deanna’s body in her mind, she started to picture what she needed to do. “You need to move the infuser to one of the large veins in her neck, somewhere above the damage.”

The captain nodded, translating her words into action. “Will,” Jean-Luc directed him with a gentle tone. “Keep pressure on the injury while I move the infuser.”

The vena cava ran down near the spine and she could thought she could picture the likely place of injury just above the fifth thoracic vertebrae. As long as circulation continued, no permanent damage would be done to the nerves or muscles of her legs.

“You need to do the surgery without opening her chest,” she began to explain. “If you go in beneath the diaphragm, you shouldn’t need to stop her heart.”

Meeting her eyes calmly, he managed a dry smile. “That does sound like something we’d want to avoid. Beverly, how do I begin? Should I sterilize--”

“No,” she cut him off and felt herself start to loose focus. Someone’s hand, Will’s by the feel of it, shook her back into reality. “No, no. Sorry. Jean-Luc we can deal with possible infection later. Whatever she gets won’t kill her in fourteen hours. Feel along her rib cage until you find the first floating rib. You’ll use the laser scalpel, make your first incision there, along the line of her ribs. Will needs to help you. He has to stop her breathing, so you can work around her diaphragm.”

“Stop her breathing?” Will repeated in disbelief. “Captain, Beverly’s been out of it all day. She’s barely conscious. She’s the only one who knows what poisons she’s pumped into herself. What if she’s wrong?”

Biting her tongue had never been something she was good at. The sudden surge of anger was almost enough to bring color back into the center of her vision. “Your only other option is to fill her full of emergency vascular polymers then pray her legs and kidneys still work when you get her back to the ship,” she snapped at the ceiling.

She could hear Jean-Luc’s hands moving along Deanna’s body. “Will, I cannot speak for Deanna. If you wish to make this decision for her, I believe she would not hold that against you.”

Both of them stopped talking and eventually she heard a rustling in Will’s direction and she thought she’d heard him nod. “Do you think you can do it? Perform surgery?” The movement near Deanna’s head was Will’s hand on her forehead.

“We will do our best,” Jean-Luc replied simply. “It’s your decision Will. If you place it in my hands, I suggest we make the attempt to heal her. Even blind, Beverly’s still one of the best doctor’s in the fleet.”

Biting her lip brought blood into her mouth but it hauled her back again from the strange darkness where all she could hear were their voices. “You’ll need more blood, at least five units. The vascular grafter is in the medkit. You can use the laser scalpel and the auto-suture to repair the damage to her lung. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to hold until we get back to the Enterprise.”

The runabout jolted viciously and the sudden change in stability wasn’t just in her head. For a moment, Will was almost on top of her as he tried to hold her steady. He shoved off the deck, making for the console at the front of the runabout.

“Worf!” he yelled as he slipped in to the other seat in the front of the runabout. “What’s going on up here?”

“We are taking phaser fire,” Worf reported gruffly. The runabout shook harshly, jolting like it had been kicked by an intergalactic horse.

“I take the them,” Will said as he took over the controls. “You return fire.”

“Jean-Luc,” getting his attention was her best bet. She wasn’t sure her voice would reach all the way to Will. “You have to keep the runabout steady. Shake it up at the wrong moment and she’ll die.”

“Number one,” Jean-Luc’s voice cut through the sound of proximity alarms and phaser fire in a way hers would not. “I don’t need to tell you I’m going to have my hands in a rather delicate place. I appreciate you keeping the ship steady.”

Will’s voice sounded like granite, “Yes sir.”

Her right hand was marginally better than her left. Lying down had helped some circulation return. Reaching up for Deanna’s head, she managed to feel the warm metal of neural stimulator controlling her breathing.

“Open her chest,” she begged him as she watched the him lift the laser scalpel over Deanna’s chest. “Cut her outfit and tear it away.”

Jean-Luc looked down at his counselor in mute apology before he ripped open the tight black fabric of her costume, exposing the white skin beneath.

Tapping the neural stimulator on the top left corner, she paused Deanna’s breathing, keeping her chest still. “Make the incision, you’ll need about ten centimeters, enough to get your hand inside of her peritoneal cavity.”

The laser scalpel activity with a hum and Beverly was oddly proud of him for resisting the urge to hesitate. It cut neatly through the unmoving skin of Deanna’s abdomen.

“She’s bleeding,” he exclaimed. “Blood’s running down her side.”

“That’s from the internal bleeding; the damage to her veins.” she assured him trying to get the fear out of her face. Closing her eyes helped her concentrate. “It’s not from the incision. Increase the rate of transfusion. You should see a large mass, dark colored, three times as big as your hands, that’s her liver. Run your hand along it and look for damage. If it’s bleeding, it’ll be black”

The wet sound of flesh and blood was eireely familiar to her but Jean-Luc looked faintly nauseated. He swallowed and obeyed, carefully searching for damage as she'd ordered. "Seems fine," he announced when he was done.

"Good," she continued as she let herself visualize what he must be seeing. "Reach down, follow the underside of the liver, you should be able to see the spine in the center of her abdomen. Next to it should be a thick, bluish white vein. You might need to move her liver or intestines out of the way. They'll move, just be gentle."

"They'll move," he repeated as he buried his hand further into her abdomen. "They didn't cover this in my emergency medical course at the Academy."

His attempts to keep her spirits up were rather sweet and she tried to share his optomism. Her lips were too dry when she licked them. "If you follow the blood," she explained and swallowed in a dry throat. "You should be able to find the problem. If you need to, go back to the liver and feel for the large vein feeding into it. You should be able to follow the hepatic vein back to the inferior vena cava."
Lowering his face to Deanna's abdomen, Jean-Luc dealt with the smell of scorched flesh better than most. "All right," he gasped in surprise. "I can feel blood here, underneath her liver, like you said."

"Keep your hand there," she ordered. Cold sweat was starting to break out over her skin and she mentally placed herself in the second stage of distributive hypovolaemic shock. Deanna came first in triage. "I'm going to use the neural stimulator to control her breathing manually. It'll feel strange but don't loose that spot."

Jean-Luc's tiny sound of surprise as he felt Deanna's chest expand around his hand nearly disappeared into the sound of screaming engines. Whatever Will was doing to keep them out of harm's way was stretching the Mendel to the limit of its abilities.

"Hold it," she breathed praying he could keep it steady. Inflating Deanna's chest one more time, she stopped her breathing again and brought her eyes to Jean-Luc. "The vascular grafter looks like a tiny set of clamps attached to a handle, you need to bring that to the vein and activate it."

His grey eyes barely concealed his fear but she could hear the wonder in his voice. "As simple as that?" he mused as he searched for the vascular grafter in the medkit with his right hand. Holding it up to the light, he paused only a moment for her nod of approval before he buried it in Deanna's abdomen.

Turning her head towards the medical tricorder, she checked the scan of Deanna's brain again and let herself sigh in relief. Oxygen levels there were still high enough. "When it's in place, activate the center switch, then wait for the graft to take hold.You'll be able to tell that the bleeding has stopped because it won't be seeping around your fingers anymore. The blood will be everywhere, but it'll clean itself up. Then we can tackle reinflating her lung."

His eyebrows narrowed viciously as he concentrated. "I didn't realize you did so much of this by feel," he mused.

"Normally I can see," she argued with a weak sigh. Closing her eyes was easier than keeping them open. Watching the glittering lights that represented her failing blood pressure move in sick circles through her vision just made things worse. "And I have the computer."

"The device," he began to report as the tension in his forehead eased. "The grafter hummed for a moment and stopped."

"Good," she agreed and felt for the stimulator. "Keep your hand there for a moment while she breathes." Deanna's chest moved once and the sound of Jean-Luc's breathing remained steady. If the bleeding had started again, she would have heard him startle. "The graft should feel like a hard tube inside the vein. Has the bleeding stopped?"

"I think so," his voice was almost a prayer but she thought he was right. "It doesn't feel as wet as it did."

Daring to pull her head up, Beverly had to drop immediately when she felt what was left of the blood in her head run away from her head. Licking her chapped lips again brought her back somewhat. "Pull out your hand and see if her blood pressure is improving," she ordered. Listening to the soft sound as he wiped the blood from his hand on part of his tunic, she tuned everything out except for the sound of the monitor on Deanna’s head.

The look he gave her when he saw she’d tried to move was disapproving. Wondering if she looked as miserable as she felt was useless, his concern was written all over his face. “Doctor, it seems you’re my next case,” he reminded her dryly.

Ignoring him, she concentrated on the next step. “You’re going to use the laser scalpel to release the air from of Deanna’s chest. Don’t worry, this is much easier than the last part.”

His smile quirked and she could see his dry amusement, even through her fuzzy vision. "Doctor, when did I ever admit to being worried?"

Chapter Six

Jean-Luc Picard was hardly touchy-feely but the simple presence of his hand on Will's shoulder was enough to make everything right feel in the world. His own father never really touched him unless it was absolutely necessary. If he'd been here instead, Kyle Riker would have reminded him that Deanna was alive, he hadn't married her yet, seemed to have no intention to do so and it was fairly useless to sit around sickbay waiting for her to wake up.

She'd wake up when she woke up, after all. Will scratched his head and hoped he wasn't being too hard on his father. He'd started and abandoned the third communique in three years when the captain had gone missing. Contemplating the death of Picard was something unpleasant enough to help him realize life was shorter than he cared to admit. The ship felt better with Picard back. The lights seemed warmer, the artificial gravity seemed less heavy and the burden of one thousand lives had been lifted from Will's shoulders.

Tonight, he was only responsible for two, and though neither of them seemed to be in any real jeopardy. He still couldn't get himself to leave sickbay. He'd hovered in the background when the Mendel had finally been rescued. He'd flown the runabout into shuttlebay one just after they dropped out of warp. Data and the Enterprise had dropped out of warp just long enough the retrieve the Mendel before heading back to the demilitarized zone. The ingenious android had managed to flood one of the more contested systems with shards of rock by pulverizing a nearby asteroid belt. Completely harmless to the Enterprise and her mighty deflectors, the tiny stones had made it impossible for smaller ships to navigate through the Fureeki star cluster without serious damage to their navigational delfectors and bought him enough time to scoop them out of space.

Data must still have been in command. The android had stood twenty-four hour watches before and with every other ranking officer off the ship, it was likely he hadn’t left the bridge. Will hadn't changed or showered. Deanna’s blood had dried on his tunic, plastering it to his skin, but he couldn’t bear taking the time to change. He'd stood in the back of sickbay while Doctor Selar cleaned up what had been deemed an 'acceptable' patching of Deanna's injuries. Beverly's second person diagnosis had been correct and the vascular graft had held long enough to prevent any serious damage to Deanna's legs or kidneys.

One of the nurses brought him a chair when it became apparent he had no attention of leaving. Turning it around the wrong way, he'd been it in, watching her sleep for the last few hours. He had watched while the second degree phaser burn on the captain's torso was tended to. Worf had escaped without injury, but Beverly had required an infusion of some trioxyline substance to keep her oxygen up while Doctor Hill repaired the damage to the fringes of her circulatory system. He remembered her mentioning capillary damge as a consequence back on the Mendel and it seemed unfortunate that she'd been right. Under the stress of the firefight, something had gone wrong, and her tiniest blood vessels had suddenly become incapable of returning the blood from her extremities to her heart. Her body's response had been to keep all blood for her internal organs and the baby, at the expense of her brain and her vision.

Running his hand over her sleeping forehead, Will allowed himself to relax slightly. Deanna had color back in her lips and cheeks; it appeared as if she'd happened to fall asleep in sickbay and would be entirely fine when she woke up.

"She looks better," Picard agreed with his inner monologue, as if he were the empath.

Will smiled down at Deanna and remembered the still warm soup in his hands. Nudging a piece of potato with his spoon, he felt the captain's hand squeeze his shoulder again reassuringly before the warmth of it left his body. "It's not bad," the captain urged him lightly. "The soup I mean. Doctor Selar was rather forceful in making certain we all ate, even rescued starship captains. Would you believe it's possible to miss the replicators on the Enterprise?"

Grinning as he looked back over his shoulder at his captain, now wearing one of those blue pajama sets that sickbay issued to anyone who needed them, and nodded. "Of course we have the best, we're the flagship of the fleet, sir," he teased and let himself take another bite.

"Mind if I join you?" Picard asked softly before he pulled up a chair. "It's true, number one, something about these replicators is far superior to any other I have come across. Of course, it's not real cooking, but there's something comfortingly familiar about them."

"It's a good ship," Will agreed. They sat together, comfortable in the silence of a late night in sickbay. He'd missed sound of the captain going to the replicator and he nearly jumped when Picard handed him bread to go with his soup.

"Eat," the captain bid him firmly. "It's harder to stay up all night if you don't. The food makes you sleepy for awhile, but it's much more pleasant to have a full stomach in the long run."

Looking at his captain with amusement, Will wondered if he would have gotten along with the man if they'd been in the Academy together. "Beverly?"

"I believe she’s attempting to get kicked out of sickbay," Picard answered with a shake of his head. Crossing his arms over his chest, he settled into his chair and turned his eys towards the vascular lab. "Will, no matter what she says, doctors are by far worse patients than captains. Doctor Hill assured me the vascular damage is completely reversible, just tedious work. I think Beverly would rather do it herself, but it's impossible to work on your hands when your hands aren't working." Even though he was smiling, the captain’s sigh was heavy, as if the weight of the Enterprise had just landed on his chest. He squared his shoulders before turning to the younger man. It took a moment of silence before Picard reluctantly admitted what was on his mind. "To be honest, she frightened me."

"Understandably so," Will agreed with his mouthful. Surprised, he couldn't think of anything else to say while he chewed. He hadn't expected the captain to admit any of his fear. He knew Picard was incredibly worried about Beverly because he knew his captain. The quieter Picard became when exposed to a situation the closer to his heart it was. Realizing he'd been wolfing down his soup, he started to apologize.

Picard waved him quiet. "It's all right Will," he said evenly. "Eat, please. Allow your captain to ramble on while you finish.” He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees as he stared down at his bare feet. “Guilt is a singularly unpleasant emotion. One that I had hoped to avoid by solving my problem with the smugglers before you or anyone else on my crew got involved." He stopped and his eyes echoed his thanks. "I never would have asked you to come for me however, I am deeply grateful that you did.”

“I’m not ready for this ship yet,” Will teased. Scraping his spoon across the bottom of the empty bowl, he set it aside. “That’s a big chair in the middle.”

“Believe me,” Picard replied with a shake of his head as he got up again and headed for the replicator. “There are occasions when I am acutely aware how awesome that responsibility is.”

Will heard something appear and when Picard returned he had two steaming mugs in his hands. As he took the coffee, noting the mug in Picard’s hand was tea, he comtemplated it silently as he “So, I suppose the real question is are you going to go with daddy or the more traditional papa?”

Picard’s face was suddenly pink. He brought his tea back down to rest on his thigh as he stared at his first officer as if mortally wounded. “It’s really happening, isn’t it?” he asked softly.

“Congratulations,” Will offered sincerely as he lifted his coffee in a toast. “You’re going to love it. Your very own little terror running screaming all over your ship. Probably naked. Throwing food, throwing tantrums," Raising his eyebrows playfully, he grinned before he finished, "Throwing up--"

Cutting him off sharply, he glared at the younger man. “Thank you, number one.” Shaking his head before he took a sip of tea, Picard smiled dryly. “I’m going to take that as an offer to babysit,” he said.

“Anytime,” Will replied gently. “Captain-”

“Jean-Luc,” Picard corrected him as he reached for his arm again. “Please, if we’re going to have this discussion and I believe we should. We will have it is as friends. You shall also have to be patient with me, I'm sure I don't need to remind you that my feelings are frequently difficult for me to articulate.”

Grinning with him, Will tried to find the words he wanted as he stared down at the dark brown surface of the coffee in his hands. “I’m happy for you. I think in a way this will be good. You may not have allowed it to happen any other way. And Beverly, well-" he paused and wondered if he was actually comfortable calling the captain by his first name. "Jean-Luc, she’s an astounding woman.When it happens to be the case that an incredible woman has feelings for you, you’re pretty damned lucky.”

Jean-Luc smiled laconically and agreed, “Indeed, number one." He bit his lip and Will wondered what thoughts were moving behind the other man's unreadable eyes. The captain could definitely give him a run for his money if he ever joined the poker table. "I’ve thought the next phase of my life was becoming an admiral or retiring to tend the vines in La Barre. Perhaps even taking up the professorship they keep trying to offer me at the Vulcan Science Academy.”

Chuckling, Will swirled the bottom of his coffee and shook his head. “No offense, but you’re never going to leave the big chair,” he corrected him. “It’s where you belong.”

Shrugging as he took a slow sip of his tea, Jean-Luc didn’t argue with him. “I was once told that our destiny is not something fixed in stone, but instead something malleable where each thing we are asked to become isn’t a change of our being but instead an addition. We’re not one thing becoming another, we’re simply adding to the richness of what we are by being these new things as well.”

“Like one of the oil canvases of the great masters of old,” Will ventured as he tried to make the connection to Jean-Luc's thought process. “Painting over and over their masterpieces until they got it right.”

“Something like that,” Jean-Luc agreed. “Though it seems too much service to one’s ego to fancy myself a part of Monet’s water lilies.”

"Perhaps Twelve Sunflowers in a Vase?" Will asked as he wracked his brain for more pieces of art. "Starry Night? I know," he stopped and snapped his fingers. "Vermeer's Astronomer."

"Always searching, never finding? Very good, number one," Jean-Luc replied with a soft smile of pride. ""I've always been more of a fan of Gauguin or Matisse, brighter colors and more abstract thinking. I do have to admit, I didn't think art was one of your fortes."

"Oh it's not," Will admitted immediately with a gleeful smile. "But you should have seen the Andorian who taught my art class at the Academy."

Surprising him, Jean-Luc carefully set his empty tea cup on the floor, reached for Will’s hand and grasped it firmly. “Number one,” he began. “You kept the lights burning admirably while I was gone and I must thank you for that. Beverly told me you took her even took her news pretty well.”

“She startled the hell out of me,” Will admitted sheepishly before he dropped his free hand to Deanna’s bed. “I was so surprised I thought Deanna was going to come flying into the back of the runabout and demand to know what Beverly had done to me.”

Jean-Luc’s smile was gentle but curious. “Deanna can feel your emotions that well?”

“Hey back on that damn planet, we’re married,” Will explained playfully before he sighed and tried to come up with a more serious answer. “As my imzadi she will always be more to me than anyone else could. More then, well, I’m not entirely sure how to explain it. We’re connected. Marriage hasn’t really been on my mind, but I don't think I could contemplate marrying anyone else. I don't think they'd compare to what I could have with her.”

Jean-Luc leaned back and, slightly to Will’s surprise, seemed to be enjoying the intimate conversation. “First love, number one?”

Chuckling as he reached for Deanna’s shapely fingers, Will toyed with it thoughtfully while he spoke. “I was a young, brash, extremely over-confident lieutenant who had no idea what he was doing. We ended up in the jungle together for five days. When she touched my mind, my perception of what love is, what love could be, changed forever. I don't really know how anything else could emotionally compare to that." Winking at his captain, he finished his thought cheerfully. "Though, I will admit it doesn't stop me from looking for a good time.”

To Will's great surprise, the captain responded in kind. “I’ve been in love several times over the years,” Jean-Luc offered. “Believe it or not Will, I have been blessed to cross paths with a number of beautiful, charming women. Some of them even let me speak to them without slapping me. However, my first love was the Stargazer. She was no Enterprise, but when my feet touched her deck, I knew I belonged with her.”

Will nodded easily. He’d always imagined his first command would be like that, having that sense of destiny to it when he stepped on board was what he'd thought he wanted. He was curious and had to ask, “And Beverly? I know you've known her for decades, but when did you--”

"When did I fall in love with her?" Jean-Luc finished the question for him. His face was hardening again and for a moment Will worried their moment of sharing was over. "Forgive me, Will. It's a difficult question to answer. Starfleet captain’s do not,” he corrected himself, “ I do not make a point of discussing my feelings with my crew. Even though it is now a matter of record that I love her, I'm not comfortable speaking to you."

The captain looked suddenly sheepish, as if he’d been caught doing something inappropriate. Rubbing the back of his head and seeming to put that aside, he relaxed into his chair and met Will’s eyes. “Perhaps it is one of life’s little ironies. That which truly unites the two of us is the nobility of the women we care for.” His breath made a dry sound in his throat before he explained,
“To be honest Will, by the time I met Beverly, she was completely in love with my best friend.”

“Ah,” Will replied sympathetically. Part of the puzzle of the captain's feelings he'd never understood seemed to finally be illuminated. “Tough break?”

Jean-Luc tilted his head to the side thoughtfully and seemed light years away. “Not at all,” he answered softly. “The time I spent with Jack and Beverly was some of the best years of my life. Jack and I used to spend long nights on the Stargazer watching holos of Wesley trying to crawl and talking about the future.”

Stopping to change his tone, Jean-Luc smiled and leaned back fondly before he divulged more of the past. “You see, Beverly was going to be head of Starfleet Medical, Jack was going to be the youngest, least annoying admiral in the history of the fleet, Wesley was going to be President of the Federation, and no matter how much time passed, I was still going to be Captain Picard, because no force in the universe was going to get me out of that chair.”

Laughing was something Will had desperately needed to do. Still chuckling, he remarked, "It's good to know I'm not the first one to have that opinion of you." When he brought his eyes back to Deanna, he could finally believe she was going to be all right. He retrieved the empty cups and stood. “More tea?” he asked as he headed for the replicator.

“I can get that--” Jean-Luc insisted.

Will grinned and shook his head. “I need to stretch my legs, they’re going numb in my chair.” Walking towards the replicator near Beverly’s office, he placed the cups inside the replicator. Stretching each of his arms slowly, he asked the computer.

“Coffee, black, and tea, earl grey, hot.” Both beverages appeared in a shower of light. Grabbing the handles of each, he headed back to the bed where Deanna slept.

While Will was at the replicator, Jean-Luc had taken Deanna’s hand in his stead and he was no longer alone in his vigil. Beverly had been released from her vascular treatment and she stood next to his chair in a similar pair of the blue sickbay pajamas. Circling him, Beverly put both of her hands on the captain’s shoulders. Her head dropped to his and her long red-gold hair spilled down over his shoulders.

Unwilling to break the moment, Will held still on the other side of sickbay and watched as Beverly guided the captain’s forehead until it rested against her stomach. Watching her kiss the top of his head, Will turned back to set Jean-Luc’s tea back into the replicator. Holding his coffee carefully, he advanced on the two of them with a grin. His grin widened as they noticed his approach and neither of them moved.

Nodding to Beverly, he noticed the color was back in her cheeks and her fingers were a healthy pink again. “Feeling better?” he asked.

“Much,” she replied sleepily running her fingers down Jean-Luc’s neck. “I can feel every part of myself again. All of it’s exhausted, but at least it's all there.”

“Data’s still camping out on the bridge,” Will reminded her and Jean-Luc as he settled back into his chair. “I believe his orders were to get ourselves to bed.”

Jean-Luc took Beverly’s hands from his shoulders and held them. She turned, wrapping herself in his arms as she brought their entwined hands to her stomach. “All of Deanna’s vitals look wonderful,” Beverly reminded him. “It appears Jean-Luc’s a better surgeon than anyone ever knew.”

“I was lucky,” Jean-Luc mused. "And though Deanna is exceptional beautiful, I will be content never to have to see that side of the counselor again." He seemed not entirely sure what do to with the woman in his arms, but he was obviously and unabashedly enamored with her.

“Goodnight,” Will said simply. Waving his hand at the door, he invited them to head to bed. ”I’m sure the two of you have a lot of catching up to do.”

“Thank her for me when she wakes up, number one,” Jean-Luc requested. “I’ll have to start making arrangements to repay my bail money.” With his arm securely around Beverly's waist, he started heading out of sickbay.

“She’ll be all right Will,” Beverly promised him as she pulled the captain’s arm a little bit tighter around her. “Call us if you need anything.”

“Your quarters or the captain’s?”

Beverly’s soft chuckle was the reward he was looking for. Jean-Luc simply turned and dead-panned, “Provided you didn’t make any attempts to take mine over while I was gone, I believe mine are still the best on this ship.”

“I’ll contact Data and tell him to start moving the doctor’s clothes,” Will teased resting his coffee on the now empty chair beside him. Beverly was still laughing softly as the doors to sickbay hissed shut behind them.

“Just you and me now,” Will sighed as he settled in to wait out the night. “I hope you could hear that. They’re happy, Deanna. Relaxed. I'll be willing to bet it we'll never see more than them holding hands in public, but Beverly might surprise us.” Lowering his head to his hands, he scratched his hands through his hair and sighed heavily. “You’d know this if you were awake, but I’m going to tell you anyway. Now that we’re back, I envy them.”

Taking her hand in his, he studied her slim fingers before he kissed the back of it thoughtfully. “Not the whole situation, mind you. If I were going to have a child, I’d much rather go about it the old fashioned way. Take the full ten months and enjoy every moment of it. Deanna, talking to the captain, I’m sure you heard him, he’s happy.”

Picturing the two of them on the bridge, or trying to deal with a baby in ten forward, he shook his head. “I’m sure they’ll fight. I’m sure it’ll be difficult for both of them, trying to be officers, lovers and parents all on the same ship. I really don’t think I know what I’m trying to say, yet, but when you’re back, we should talk. Maybe we’ve been in a holding pattern too long. Maybe there are things in this universe that we have to make possible."

Leaving his chair when the metal dug into his back, Will sighed and stretched as he paced sickbay at the foot of Deanna’s bed. “I keep thinking the captain had a point, he already has one of the best rooms on the ship. They’d be crazy to give it up. Fitting Beverly’s possessions in there shouldn’t be difficult, but I can’t help wondering what he’s going to do the first time his son sticks one of his priceless, eons old artifacts in his mouth. Or his daughter spills tea on one of his antique paper copies of Shakespeare. I wonder what he’ll say.”

Resting his hands on the bed, Will found Deanna’s feet and wrapped his hands around her ankles thoughtfully for a moment. “Maybe he’ll laugh,” he mused. “After all, we are on a ship named Enterprise, perhaps anything’s possible.”


Chapter Seven

Guinan set the Sumerian Sunset, her second of the evening, in front of her with a smile that suggested she could feel the joy radiating through Deanna just as well Deanna would have if their positions were reversed. “On the house,” Guinan offered softly. Starlines drifted lazily past the windows of the Ten Forward and the this evening the room was nearly full. Around the slim counselor, the varied crew of the Enterprise went about their leisure time, drinking and talking, but more glances than usual were headed Deanna’s way.

Attempting to be less obtrusive, Deanna had chosen the far corner table instead of Will’s favorite by the third window. Facing the wall and the first window, she had her back to the room. As an empath, the room was the same to her no matte where her face pointed, but this positioning let the crew smile when they saw her without becoming self-conscious.

“Sometimes coming home alive is the best morale booster you could ask for,” Guinan pointed out as she noted the smiling faces.
Snapping her finger against the rim of the glass, Deanna watched the burst of color with a brilliant smile before lifting it in a salute. “The captain being back is wonderful, isn’t it?” she asked.

Guinan saw someone coming in from the other side of the lounge and nodded to Deanna as she moved on. “I don’t think it’s just the captain. You know as well as I do, it’s a family here. When the captain comes home after nearly being declared dead, when a certain counselor convalesces, the family comes together. It would have come together regardless, that’s what families are for, but this way the family can come together smiling.”

Deanna looked up into Guinan’s ancient eyes and smiled wickedly. “I suppose Will carrying me through the corridors of the ship, bleeding all over the carpet, wasn’t very good for morale either,” she teased.

Guinan’s secretive smile took on a darker tone. “You do know there are ensigns who get assigned the carpet cleaning detail,” she reminded her.

“I do usually make an effort not to bleed anywhere,” Deanna retorted imperiously. “I think have earned a little leeway." Lifting her drink, she sipped it as she surveyed the room. Ten Forward was a full, pleasant place this evening and served as a sharp contrast to the bars she'd been in planetside. Renewing her smile at Guinan, Deanna remarked, "It’s good to be back.”

“We’ve missed you,” Guinan finished with a nod before she walked away.

Stretching out her abilities to touch the mind of the person Guinan had been watching, Deanna felt a tight knot of emotion. It wasn’t the captain, his mind had a unique peace to it that wouldn’t have had that sense of being tangled. Somehow, the great intellectual Jean-Luc Picard was going to find a way to have his cake and let his child smear it all over his ship too. Like the captain, lately Will’s thoughts were similarly focused and remarkably clear.

Will’s presence she would have recognized without feeling for him. Their connection ebbed and grew as if it had it's own seasons, but for the last week it had been so strong she could feel him walking the ship. Deanna probably could have put her finger on his exact position on a schematic of the Enterprise if she’d been asked. No, Guinan wasn’t looking at Will, because he was still on a shuttle with her mother.

He’d volunteered to fly the shuttle tasked with transferring Lwaxana Troi from the USS Gorgo to the Enterprise. With the Enterprise out in the distant regions of aligned space, Ambassador Troi had been required to transfer through four Federation Starships, two runabouts and a starbase to get to her daughter. Lwaxana had been certain to keep Deanna uprised of every transfer with a long-winded communique. Even with the consistent barage of mockingly berating messages haralding her mother’s arrival, Deanna was thrilled she was coming. She still wasn’t sure why Will had volunteered to spend at least two hours alone in a very small space with her mother but he’d promised to explain.

The quietly controlled knot of feeling moved closer to her, and Deanna straightened the deep blue fabric of her dress over her legs and let that mind approach her instead of seeking it out. Nearly shivering as she brushed across that mind, Deanna watched a hand reach out to fidget with the candle on her table. Tension in that mind was as palpable as as a knot in her own neck, and it was something that had to be worked out, alternatively dug into and soothed until it faded back into the smoothness of normal.

“Mind if I join you?” the question and the tone of Beverly’s voice was light but the mind behind it was taut like a forcefield.

“Please,” Deanna offered warmly. The first layer of tension in the other woman’s mind eased and it was like a string coming loose just a little on the surface of the ball. “I’m just waiting for Will. He’s decided to brave having dinner with my mother, as soon as she arrives.”

Toying with the candle, Beverly swirled it around so the hot wax ran up the sides of the glass. “I heard he decided to relieve poor Ensign Jordan,” Beverly’s voice was teasing but the knot behind it was pulsing with intensity.

Bound to give Deanna a headache if she concentrated on it, the knot of emotion was something she needed to approach slowly. Reaching for something else, Deanna surveyed the room. A ensign in the corner was entertaining fairly erotic feelings for one of the petty officers, one of the lieutenants was relating a hilarious story about his interlude planetside with an Andorian and two of his mates and Guinan was contented. Staying with the mind of the bartender, Deanna smiled brightly and looked up at the face behind the candle.

Leaning in a little, she forced a mocking seriousness into her tone as she teased, “You look much better.”

Beverly's laughter wasn't forced but it was harsher than usual. The loop on the surface of the knot unwound a little and Deanna thought she might be able to tug it free if she concentrated. “You’ve been getting that too?” Beverly guessed lightly.

“Every time I turn around,” Deanna teased with a mocking sigh of exasperation. Watching Beverly's hands release the candle and move on to the sleeve of her dark green dress, she wondered if she should call attention to the perpetual motion problem. Deciding it might be easier to work on one thing at a time, she cloaked her exploration of Beverly's psyche in gallows humor. “It’s hard to take credit for looking slightly better than a corpse.”

Emotionally, a full layer of string unwound as Deanna’s verbal tug had the desired outcome. The uppermost layers were guilt, and Deanna could feel almost them unwind into her hands like thick, black twine.

Beverly’s hand reached across the table and clamped down on Deanna’s wrist. Staring at the white glass of the table before she spoke, Beverly lost the battle to remain still when her knee started moving up and down. "Oh Deanna--"

“Beverly,” Deanna retorted firmly before Beverly could finish her thought. Bringing her hand to cover the other woman’s, she continued to smile as warmly as she could. “I don’t even have a scar. Even the captain’s clumsy, worse than a first year medical student ministrations failed to do any damage. I’m concerned I may have to start facing the fact that I’m just as tough as my mother.”

Making the other woman laugh was almost as useful as letting her cry, and another loop emerged from the knot. Beverly’s eyes were damp, her lips were quivering slightly, the way they did when she refused to acknowledge something deep and terrifying, and her fingers refused to remain still. It was one of the quirks of strength that made Beverly an incredibly trying patient and endeared her as one of Deanna’s very best friends.

Flying to her sleeve, Beverly's hand tugged at the hem until it was almost up to the doctor's knuckles before she released it. Repeating the motion, her hands only stopped when Deanna reached for them and squeezed them warmly. "Have you had supper yet? You’re welcome to eat with Will, my mother and I. You’re not telepathtic, so you won’t be subjected to the talking my mother can do with her mouth full. Believe it or not, meals can actually be very quiet with her around.”

Shaking her head slowly, Beverly had obviously missed most of what she had said. Unable to fidget with her hands, her entire body nearly shuddered as she lost the outlet for her nervous energy.“You saved my life,” Beverly whispered and stole her hand back to rub at her eye. “You turned right into that phaser blast and saved my life."

“Yes, I did,” Deanna answered. The guilt was unraveling faster now, filling her hands with reams of thick black twine. Guilt wasn’t important. The black was the superficial part of the tangle. The softer red yarn was anger and frustration. All the red would slip free on its own eventually. What she needed to worry about were the filamentuous strands of green. Every time she got closer to a strand, it slipped through her fingers, insubstantial as a soap bubble.

Mentally placing all the black twine of Beverly’s in one pile, Deanna felt the first tentative bursts of color wash across her mind that heralded the arrival of her mother. Lwaxana’s full mental presence was like lying in the warm sun coming through a stained glass window with her face turned up into it. Surrounding her mother like an irresitable aura, Lwaxana’s personality was an empathic force of nature with all the beauty and subtlety of a Klingon opera.

Beverly’s hands twitched but she kept her grip on Deanna’s.“You could have died,” she suggested.

Hearing the swish of silk as Beverly’s skirt as her knees bounced nervously, Deanna nodded. “Yes, I could have,” she agreed. “i could have turned too quickly and failed. The mission could have failed. The mercanaries could have used better weapons and killed us all. Captain Picard could have stopped my heart. Your radiation and drug cocktail could have killed you.”

In Beverly’s mind, Deanna finally managed to grasp a few of the green filaments and hold them long enough to start working them free. Running deeper than rage or guilt, the green was softer than both and more difficult to hang on to.

"Oh Little one," Lwaxana’s voice began in her head. "You really should have come to give your mother a hug when I arrived in Jean-Luc’s cavern of a shuttlebay. I know I’ve taught you better than that."

"Mother," Deanna replied calmly keeping her eyes fixed on Beverly’s. "I’m delighted you’re here but I’m in the middle of a conversation. You’re going to have to make do with Will as an escort."

Making her feel like a cat tormened with a string, the answer to Beverly’s misery was nearly within Deanna’s reach. “None of that happened,” Deanna reminded her friend. “We’re all right. We all made it home and everything is all right. There’s no point in dwelling on what might have been.”

"Many Betazoids can carry on two of three conversations at once," her mother insisted in her head. "You should really try to prevent treating yourself like a limited being. It’s beneath you."

Deanna’s smile broke through and even though Beverly’s eyes now full of tears, she seemed curious. “What?” she asked.

Grinning as she answered, Deanna released Beverly’s hand to touch the tears on her face. “My mother’s here.”

Beverly’s tiny smile was deeply reassuring in its sincerity. Brushing her tears away, she teased, “Come to collect on Jean-Luc’s debt?”

“In addition to making sure I”m really in one piece,” Deanna replied. Wiping the dampness gently from Beverly’s face, she reached in to caress the green filaments as well. “To borrow my mother’s words,” she paused and changed her tone to what she had been told was an excellent imitation of her mother. “Thinking too long about what could have happened is about as useful as trying to wake your father with a thought. Both of them only end in the sound of snoring.”

Beverly nodded weakly in acceptance the cup of tea Guinan set in front of her. “My grandmother had a similar philosophy,” she replied.

"Little one," her mother interrupted again. "Just who is the little stressbunny you’re sitting with? Her mind’s a mess of anguish, poor thing."

"Mother," Deanna replied with a chastising mental nudge. "She’s working through it. In another few minutes, I think I can get her to acknowledge what she’s feeling."

Lwaxana’s mental shake of her head in response felt like a shower of color from an explosion of varigated rose petals. As her mother drew closer in proximity, the sensation of her mind expanded through color and into the smell of night-blooming Ocorai from home. The heavy sweet scent hung in her mind as if she’d been walking through the jungle in mid-summer.

"I suggest you hurry it up," Lwaxana sent. "That stressbunny of yours is going to make herself ill if she doesn’t start calming her thoughts. Now if you just tell her-"

"No, mother." Deanna was firm. "Part of human emotional development requires coming to certain epiphanies on their own. She’ll find it, you’ll see."

Running a hand through her hair, Beverly’s eyes were suddenly far away. “Her’s had something to do with horses and fish,” she continued. “I don’t remember the whole thing anymore.” Spinning the cup of tea on the table, she bit her lip before she managed to finish. “I came here to ask you something. I started to go to your quarters but the computer said you were here.”

Coiling the red yarn and setting it aside from the knot, Deanna reached mentally for the last of the mess. The rage was gone. The guilt was neatly set aside and all that remained was the most nebulous part of the tangle. The filamentous green surrounded her like ancient silk about to fall apart. Holding the strands of thought together with gentle hands, she echoed the motion corporeally by stopping the slow circles Beverly was making with her cup.

“You can let it gnaw at your mind for the next few days,” Deanna suggested. “If you like, you can see me tonight after dinner, or tomorrow morning and we can talk about it then.” Looking up into Beverly’s soft, still teary eyes and the starkness of then tension in the rest of her face, Deanna confronted her. “But if you’re ready, you know you can tell me.”

Beverly blinked twice against the tears in her eyes before she spoke, “I thought I just felt guilty because you saved me.”

Running her hand up from Beverly’s cup to her cheek, Deanna smiled cheerfully. “I don’t think I need to remind you how many times you’ve saved my life,” she reminded her.

“Deanna, you didn’t just save me,” Beverly finally revealed. Fading away like a harmless wash of color, the filaments finally unraveled.

"I don’t know how you’re ever going to leave the Enterprise, little one," Lwaxana’s voice echoed through Deanna’s mind. "I don’t think any other captain would deserve your talents."

Mentally thanking her mother for the compliment, Deanna focused on the new emotion. Instead of a knot, it was delicate and insubstantial, like a piece of seaweed caught in an underwater current.

“Your son,” Beverly started to explain. “What happened to you with the being you called Ian, if it hadn’t happened, if he hadn’t come to you, I wouldn’t have been able to...” Prying out from Deanna’s grip, her right hand left the cup and slipped down to rest on her stomach. “Jean-Luc’s child, our child, would have died.”

Lwaxana’s mind reached out to her daughter in a wash of warmth. Love and sympathy suffused Deanna like the heat of a campfire, chasing away the cold darkness of the loss of her son. Like a hand reached out through darkness, Lwaxana’s mind eased her daughter’s burden and shared the weight of that loss. Between telepaths, the healing exchange of emotion only took a moment, but Deanna lacked the same efficiency when it came to the woman sitting across from her.

Leaving her chair to circle the table and slip into the bench next to her friend, Deanna gently dropped her hand to Beverly’s womb, just over the one of her own already there. “Ian died to preserve the lives of the crew,” she reminded her gently. Resting her chin on Beverly’s shoulder, she let affection fill her voice as tears welled in her eyes. “I didn’t get to know him very well, but I know that he valued our kind of life enough to want to experience being one of us. Where ever he is now, he would be pleased to know he had some part in the creation of another life.”

Leaning her head over to rest against Deanna, Beverly’s smile broke in time with the a breath of sweetness in her mind. To Deanna, it felt like the first hint of dawn peering over a dark horizon.

Feeling the tension start to leave Beverly’s body, Deanna sat up and hugged her tightly. As Beverly released her, Deanna smiled bittersweetly and concluded, “As his mother, I know I’m right.”

At a loss for words, Beverly simply held her hand as Deanna returned to her chair. Comfortable silence hung between them, warm and mild, much like the dawn in Beverly’s thoughts.

It wasn’t until Beverly started to leave the bench, that Deanna felt Will’s presence enter the room. He was contented, even amused and he felt like the first whiff of delicious food, sneaking across the room. He was also hungry and that reminded Deanna why she’d really come to Ten Forward. He kissed her cheek and asked all of his questions about the tears in her eyes in a rush of gentle concern.

Nodding that she was all right, Deanna turned to greet her mother properly. Lwaxana, dressed in a maroon, gold and black dress that managed to fuse the majesty of Ancient Greek gods on Earth and modern Betazoid fashion, had skipped right past her daughter and had enveloped Beverly Crusher in a crushing embrace.

She’d even been in such an apparent rush to do so that she’d dropped the one suitcase she had near the door of Ten Forward and a bewildered looking ensign was returning it to her feet. Lwaxana even ignored Deanna’s mental nudge for a moment as she finished her hug.

Will leaned in close to her ear and whispered, “I didn’t think they knew each other that well.”

“They don’t,” Deanna replied under her breath. “I think mother’s just sensing that Beverly could use a little mothering right about now.”

“Each time I see her, I’m surprised,” Will said. Grinning in amusement and sinking into the chair by facing the window, Will left a chair between Deanna and Beverly open for Lwaxana.

Instead of taking it, she released Beverly from her arms, kissed her left and right cheek in quick succession, and remained contented on the bench next to her. With one arm still resting protectively on Beverly’s knee, Lwaxana turned to her daughter and radiated her happiness with every fiber of her being. Even though it was now tempered slightly with the sensation of loss, it was still akin to sitting in full view of one of the most spectacular sunsets Betazed had ever offered.

“Little one,” Lwaxana began aloud without the need for Deanna’s prompting. “You look stunning. I’m glad Jean-Luc was able to add field medic to his list of accomplishments, but I do wish you’d be more careful.”

Will inclined his head to the very polite waiter standing in the background. “Would you still care for the Nerezshja?” he asked Lwaxana.

Deanna caught Beverly’s confused expression and explained, “It’s a traditional Betazoid dish served on special occasions. It’s only made in large portions and must be shared or it’s said to cause catastrophic bad luck.”

“And colorblindness,” Lwaxana added briskly. “Yes Will, thank you. We will all share the Nerezshja,” she told the waiter with a quick wave of her hand. Bending to retrieve her suitcase from the floor of Ten Forward, she patted Beverly’s knee reassuringly. “Don’t worry, bunny. You’ll love it because it’s exotic and delicious. Good for you too.”

Watching Beverly’s lips purse in amusement, Lwaxana anticipated her question. “Yes, yes, of course Jean-Luc can join us. He’s busy on the bridge but I’m sure if you call him with one of your shiny little badges he’ll be right down. I’d call him myself but he might think I’m just trying to get my money.”

When Lwaxana winked at them, Will started to chuckle and Deanna felt herself joining him. “Fifty bars is a considerable sum,” he offered graciously. “You were very kind to loan it to us.”

Lwaxana nodded imperiously as she set her case on the bench beside her and began to rummge through it. “Don’t be silly Will,” she said. “Jean-Luc’s far too pretty for prison. Besides, if I had known he was becoming a father I would have just included it as part of his Izadjal.”

Will and Beverly both shot Deanna puzzled looks as she felt her own astonishment light her face in surprise. She explained quickly, “Betazoid parents celebrate the quickening, or the moment they become telepathically aware of an unborn child, with the Izadjal. Those who are dear to the new parents give them gifts.”

“Like a baby shower?” Beverly guessed.

“I don’t know why that bizarre terminology is appropriate but yes,” Lwaxana agreed as she found her answer in Beverly’s mind. “What you're thinking of is similar. Now, since you’ll never be able to telepathically speak to your child, I’m free to celebrate whenever I want. I choose today.”

Will chuckled and sipped his synthale as if he was being allowed to watch a holonovel unravel in front of him.

“When one comes from a noble family, such us ours,” Lwaxana continued magnanimously, “The gifts typically become quite extravagant. If Deanna were to have a child-”

“-Mother-” Deanna interrupted.

"I have to try, Little one," Lwaxana mused telepathically.

“Anyway,” she returned to speaking. Pressing an object into Beverly’s palm with a metallic clinking, Lwaxana folded her fingers around it. “This, Beverly, is for you. It’s quite old and remarkably sturdy, you can take it in the shower and let Jean-Luc’s little one bash it into things. That’s the real beauty of ancient Betazoid craftsmanship.”

Peering over Beverly’s fingers, she felt her mother’s rush of generosity and realized what Lwaxana had retrieved out of the case. Feeling her eyebrows shoot up in surprise, Deanna just stared at her mother in shock when she saw what it was.

“It’s beautiful,” Beverly murmured as she stared down at the palm of her hand. Within her fingers sat a heavy stone wrapped in delicate, golden metal. Cut into a faceted tear drop, the center of the brilliant blue stone held a single mote of light seeming to burn entirely independent of the light in the room. “What is it?”

Deanna leaned into Will’s shoulder and shook her head. “It’s a Betazoid soul diamond,” she muttered in shock. “They’re supposed to represent the inner peace in the souls of their owners and never go out, even in total darkness. That one in particular is over eighteen hundred years old and has been in my family for twenty-two generations.”

Sharing Will’s surprise, Beverly would have dropped the necklace to the table if Lwaxana hadn’t been holding her fingers around it.

“Little one,” Lwaxana began warmly with her eyes fixed on her daughter. “You’re always telling me your family is here, on the Enterprise. Since you seem to have no desire to start making one, I’ve decided I agree with you and accept your family as my own. Traditionally, this would go to my elder daughter, but since you’re making no progress towards making a family of your own. I’m giving it the woman who is the closest thing you have to a sister.”

“Ambassador Troi,” Beverly tried to resist. “I really can’t accept this. It’s part of Deanna’s inheritance.”

“Nonsense,” Lwaxana insisted with a firm shake of her head. “Calling me ‘ambassador’ isn’t going to make me any more reasonable, either, little bunny.”

Patting Beverly’s shoulder as the other woman realized that the nickname was going to be as hard to get rid of his Lwaxana’s new affection, Deanna sighed and managed to smile.

Lwaxana accepted a frosty purple beverage from Guinan with a suddenly serious expression. “I’m an eccentric old woman,” she admitted candidly. “Who lives in a huge house mostly by herself full of ancient things from another lives in another era that was long ago left behind. Humor me and accept this. Keep it. Look at it occasionally and remember to be happy. You’ve never owned anything remotely this lovely and believe it or not, little bunny, you deserve it.”

Pausing and feeling out Beverly’s mind, Lwaxana turned to Will instead and started to laugh. “Occaisonally Mister Holm can be surprisingly good company,” she replied to his thought.

Taking her napkin off the table, she settled it preemptively in her lap before she kissed Beverly’s cheeks again, first right, then left. “Be happy,” she wished the younger woman firmly before she looked at her three dinner companions. “Now, get your napkins off the table,” she ordered. “Dinner will be here in less than a minute and you don’t want to miss this. Better get the captain down here too. Put that big Klingon in charge for awhile. He looks serious enough to handle things. He can growl at any problems your ship might have." The door hissed open behind Lwaxana's back, but she immediately smiled when she recognized the captain's presence. "Speak of the devil," she exclaimed. "Here he is."

From her vantage point, Deanna could see the trepidation on the captain's face and watched with amusement as he put it aside. Speaking quickly to the bartender, Jean-Luc had a bottle of wine cradled in his arms. Realizing he'd brought out the infamous Chateau Picard, Deanna felt her smile brighten. The chair between Deanna and Lwaxana was still empty, and as the captain approached the table, Deanna felt his spike of curiosity as he saw Beverly entwined in her mother's arms.

Taking her mother's hand, he kissed it politely. "It is good of you to grace us with your presence, Ambassador," he greeted.

"Jean-Luc!" her mother replied warmly. "You are a devil, aren't you? Snagging this sweet little bunny-"

Beverly's lips pursed again and she seemed to be realizing the nickname was now unshakable in Lwaxana's presence. Deanna started to say something, but Beverly waved her quiet. "It's better than the dancing doctor," she decided lightly.

Will beamed and finished his ale as the tall wine glass was set in front of him. "The dancing doctor?" he asked.

"It was a long time ago," Beverly tried to put the subject to rest.

"Don't be modest," Lwaxana interceded as she watched Jean-Luc's hand rest on Beverly's shoulder. "You were, and continue to be quite good at your dancing. The captain finds it incredibly attractive. That's why he'd never dance with you."

Jean-Luc raised his eyebrows and managed to simply shrug in response. "I shall attempt to rectify that in the future," he said.
He started to take the chair between Lwaxana and Deanna, but the formidable ambassador stood and shook her head to rebuke him. “You sit here,” Lwaxana offered as she left the seat on the bench next to Beverly.

Pulling out the chair he’d been about to sit in, Jean-Luc let her slip past him. Lifting the bottle of wine as he began pouring the glasses, he smiled warmly at the food. "You know, Lwaxana, I've never had the opportunity to try Nerezshja. I hope it goes well with Paulliac, it's the forty-one and my brother swears this is one of the finest his vineyard has produced." Glancing meaningfully at Beverly, he raised his eyebrows in apology. "I have one other bottle I'm saving for a time when you can participate."

Beverly's half-wicked smile lit her face. "I suppose I can only blame myself," she teased.

Beneath her smile, Deanna could feel the sudden stabbing of guilt in her friend. Some of Beverly’s emotional whiplash was hormonal but it was nearly impossible to differentiate. Her responses would be off for awhile, possibly even the rest of her pregnancy. That already intrigued her, Deanna hadn’t yet been in long term proximity to a friend who’d been pregnant. She’d speculated, but she’d never been right there.

Will seemed completely unable to stop grinning. "You really only have yourself to blame, don’t you?" he asked.

"Unfortunately yes," Beverly replied and resourcefully poured her tea into her wine glass. “Though I intend to conveniently forget from time to time.”

“As well you should,” Will teased playfully as he moved his glass towards the bottle to be filled. “Don’t let him off easily.”

"I would lead the toast," Lwaxana offered as she lifted her glass. "However, Jean-Luc would be rather disappointed because he's been coming up with one all evening."

"Can't have that," Will agreed with a wink. Deanna felt his amusement with the sweetness of an exceedingly ripe uttaberry and lying beneath it were notes of very deep emotion. Like rich chocolate, his affection for everyone at the table warmed her soul. Reaching for that lock of hair on his forehead that seemed to fall out of place just so she could fix it, Deanna returned the feeling.

Her mother's thoughts had slipped into one of her more protective parental moods. The power of Lwaxana's mind resonated through Deanna's being as if her mother were embodying the rich, hearty scent of one of the more simple stews on Betazed. Smiling at the way her mother's hand remained on Beverly's knee, Deanna embraced her own gratitude that her mother was here.

Beverly's mind was softer, more conflicted, but finally at some kind of ease. Her continuing relief and guilt were balsamic vinegar and olive oil, mixing into something palatable and symbiotic. She wasn't sure yet if she was comfortable being all things she needed to be at once. Leftover emotions, bits of memory, and things she’d forgotten to say wandered in her mind like herbs baked into the crust of bread. They were too numerous and too subtle to be identified but Beverly's emotions were softening and no longer stressed.

"Thank you, number one," Jean-Luc accepted politely. Lifting his glass to the center of the table, over the many plates of multi-colored Betazoid vegetables and soups that made up the traditional Nerezshja meal, he radiated a more restrained contentment. Though they were more like cheesecake, where the sweetness was more subtle, the captain's emotions were a pleasant harmony with Will's.

Taking a moment to clear his mind, Jean-Luc searched the faces around him. His patient inventory as slow and measured as he took control of his audience before he spoke.

He didn’t get the chance.

“I apologize for the interruption,” Data’s voice was polite and apologetic. The circle of glasses lowered and Will looked at his glass rebelliously as if he intended to take a sip regardless. “May I say you look well, Ambassador Troi,” he acknowledged with a slight nod and Deanna recognized his protocol for dealing with dignitaries. “Captain, Admiral Nechayev has read the second addendum to your report of the events in the Suukan courtroom. She contacted the Enterprise a few minutes ago and requested I bring her response to your immediate attention.”

“Balderdash,” Lwaxana interjected with an annoyed wave of her hand.

“Pardon me, Ambassador,” Data responded curiously. “I do not understand your objection.”

Breaking a piece of the soft bread that came with the Nerezshja, Will passed the piece to Deanna with the same indomitable grin as he listened . Passing it to Beverly as tradition required, Deanna indicated with her hands that Beverly should pass it on to Lwaxana. As the matron, Lwaxana would eat first. The next piece Will tore off went to Beverly, then Deanna, then Jean-Luc, in traditional order of sucession.

“Doesn’t the captain get time off?” Lwaxana continued with an exasperated sigh. "Mister Android, he’s been on the bridge all day, poor man deserves to have dinner with his family. Tell her he’s trapped in the holodeck or negotiating with a Grizellean for mining rights.”

“I apologize again,” Data replied. His expression had begun to change to his puzzled yet fascinated look he wore as student of the humanities. “I understand your objection to the captain leaving dinner, what I did not understand is your method of dismissal. In particular, the word you used is unfamiliar.”

“Data,” Will interrupted before Lwaxana could launch into a long winded explanation of the etymology of balderdash and reasons why Starfleet Admirals deserved to be dismissed as such. “Why don’t you join us?”

Sharing Will’s amusement and agreeing with his idea, Deanna stood and made room for the waiters to add another small table to the one they had already filled. “Yes,” she said. “Data, we’re about to eat one of the cultural dishes of my people. It could be an interesting experience for you.”

“Counselor,” Data asked as he took a chair primly next to Will. “I am curious as to why we are choosing to ignore the admiral’s communique.”

“Mister Android,” Lwaxana interrupted as she dabbed her bread in the rich red sauce on the edge of the dish.

“Ambassador,” he replied. “Please refer to me as Data. Android is my species, not my surname.”

Closing her eyes, Lwaxana took a bite and smiled contentedly before she continued her verbal sparring match with Data. “Have you ever considered getting one? Might make you feel more human if you had too names to contend with like the rest of is.” Then with exaggerated care, Lawaxana used his first name, as if to prove she knew it. “Data, the captain should be celebrating. He can write reports and send communiques when he has a full stomach. He’s been through enough, let him have a few moments with his friends and this dear little bunny. Not to mention the sad fact that since he was so daringly rescued by his crew, he hasn’t had a moment to even acknowledge the change in his life, let only revel in the wonder of it as he should.”

Data tiled his head and watched them eat with wonder. “You are referring to the impending birth of Captain Picard and Doctor Crusher’s child?”

“I am referring to life, you shiny Pinnochio,” Lwaxana replied with warmth instead of frustration.

Patting Data’s white hand, Deanna explained for him, “Mother means that in an endearing sense.”

“A diminutive used between friends,” Data replied. Nodding he filed that away and seemed oddly honored by it. “Like the Ambassador’s comments on your stature, or her referral to Doctor Crusher as a member of the family Leporidae.”

Waving down the waiter for extra napkins, Lwaxana tucked one into the cleavage of her brilliant maroon dress and let it hang down the front. “Life, especially new life, is always worthy of a glass of wine and a good meal.”

“To good company,” Jean-Luc intercepted Lwaxana’s explanation and formed it into a quick toast. The circle of glasses clinked together and Deanna caught the flash of amusement in Will’s eyes and followed it to the joined hands of Beverly and Jean-Luc resting on the edge of the table. The continued contact was forcing the captain to eat with his left hand but the simple nature of the meal kept that from being a hindrance.

“Doctor,” Data asked after observing the passing of bread that accompanied the meal. “I am curious. Does physical contact with the father of your child become more pleasant after conception has occurred?”

Deanna choked and the rich red wine in her mouth stung the back of her throat. Will was laughing outright, his face buried in his napkin. The captain’s grip on Beverly’s hand spasmed in surprise but recovered. Lwaxana’s eyes never left her dinner and she seemed entirely unperturbed as she used the crusty bread to eat. Watching as the flush pinked Beverly’s face, Deanna tried to catch her breath.

“It was hardly unpleasant before,” Beverly deadpanned. After a moment, she attempted his question more seriously. “It is very difficult for humans to measure emotion. I don’t think I could quantify it for you.”

“Thank you,” Data said. “I only inquire because I notice that you and the captain are now engaging in public displays of affection which is a behavior I have not witnessed between you before. Due to its recent appearance I wonder if it is an extension of your pregnancy.”

“Data,” Jean-Luc ventured into the conversation and Deanna felt the mixture of embarrassment, pride and a new, gentle disregard for appearances become cohesive in his thoughts. His explanation was abruptly halted when someone across the room began tapping their knife on their glass. Someone else joined in, then another and after a minute or two the entire lounge was filled the sound of metal chiming off glass.

“I think you’re going to have to give a speech,” Will stated the obvious for his captain when the other man didn’t move.

“It’s all right,” Beverly murmured across Lwaxana towards the captain as she squeezed his hand. “I’m surprised it stayed a secret this long. When it comes to gossip, the Enterprise might as well have a crew of fifty.”

“Good for you! Little bunny, that’s a very constructive attitude,” Lwaxana admired. “It’s usually only too human to want to keep secrets.”

Leaving his chair with great reluctance, Jean-Luc allowed Deanna to refill his wine glass before he made his way to the center of the room. Keeping his eyes on Beverly until the last, his gaze circled the Ten Forward before he began to speak.

Someone in the back, near the window, simply began to clap. Jean-Luc lifted his hand, but the clapping continued. The sound of applause swelled like a living thing until all of Ten Forward rang with it. Deanna felt her eyes start to sting again. The wash of emotion was warm and heartening, a kind of love that seemed to hum like the main deflector and hold just as much raw power.

Caught in the wake of his crew’s public salute to his very private good news, Jean-Luc opened his mouth when the applause started to fade. To the surprise of everyone in the room, the captain said nothing at all. His lips moved and Deanna could see his fingers fidget with the glass in his hand, but he made no recovery.

Hearing the rustling of silk to her left, Deanna expected to see Lwaxana floating to the captain’s rescue and instead she saw Beverly, her pale red hair glowing in contrast to the green dress, take the captain’s arm and stand beside him.

“Thank you,” she began gently to speak for the man at her side. “I’m sure you all have felt that here, on the Enterprise, we share the same father. He is our guide, our protector, our confidant and our teacher. He counsels us when we fear the greatness of own potential and allows us to soar when that potential is realized.”

Jean-Luc’s arm held her very tightly to him and Beverly stood easily in his grasp. “Though I was an only child,” Beverly continued, “I’ve heard rumors that the arrival of a new sibling causes discord in a family and I would like to assure you that this baby, the captain’s baby, in no way takes away from your relationship with your father.” Her tone was light and soft laughter echoed through the room.

“He will still care for you, right your wrongs and lead the way on our journey through the stars,” she promised. “I only have one request that will affect you elder siblings.” Pausing to bring her eyes back to the captain, Beverly’s expression seemed entirely serious. “We make a deal, the captain’s yours during the day as long as he always makes it home to tuck the baby in at night.”

Lifting his glass of Chateau Picard in her direction, Will nodded solemnly. “Deal,” he replied cheerfully into the gentle laughter at the end of Beverly’s toast.

“To the captain,” Beverly’s louder tone resonated through the room. Light glinted from raised glasses, the captain sought shelter by resting his forehead against Beverly’s and Deanna basked in affection that surrounded her. Lwaxana looked especially touched as she let tears of joy run openly down her face.

As the crew began to drink, Will leaned in close to her shoulder. His hand was on her back and Deanna could feel his pleasure radiate from him. He had to get in the last word and with a wink, he raised his glass only to her. “Make it so.”

Hitting his shoulder, she shook her head at him and raised her own glass. "To the future. Theirs and ours."



The computer chirped, then interrupted his sleep with with her familiar voice, “Incoming communique from Starfleet Academy.”

Rolling over to his side, Jean-Luc detached himself from the arms around his chest and the long leg that was draped over his own. Beverly only murmured slightly before relaxing back into sleep. If he said her name, she’d been awake in an instant, but otherwise she was a master of sleeping when she could. In the short time since they’d started spending nights together he’d learned that she was capable of sleeping through the myriad communiques that interrupted the captain’s sleep. She also had the fascinating ability to fall asleep immediately, seemingly seconds after he said goodnight.

Taking the chair at his desk, Jean-Luc tried to place who would be contacting him from the Academy and decided whoever it was, was going to have to put up with his bare chest. “Onscreen,” he bade the computer.

The stars and triangle symbol of Starfleet Academy gave way to the familiar and immediately confused face of Wesley Crusher. “Hey mom, sorry to get you in the middle of the night,” he began and instantly corrected himself. “Captain Picard,” he recognized in confusion.

“Wesley!” he replied with a surprised grin. “It’s no trouble. How’s the Academy treating you? You must be in the middle of finals around this time, aren’t you?”

“Midterms,” Welsey agreed with a wincing nod. “I’ve finished two of them, but I have interspecies diplomacy and first contact situations tomorrow.”

Smiling as he remembered his own third year, Jean-Luc caught a glimpse of darkness behind the young man. “Why are you up? What time is it there? The difference can’t be too great, are you pulling an all-nighter to get ready?”

“Just before two hundred hours,” Wesley admitted with a sheepish smile that reminded him of Jack studying for his lieutenant’s exam. They’d spent an entire night in the mess hall counting on pots of replicated coffee and all of Jean-Luc’s knowledge of alien worlds to get Jack through his test. “I couldn’t sleep. Mom usually doesn’t mind hearing from me. Usually she calls me on Tuesdays, it’s kind of our tradition. I know she missed last week because she was on the away mission to find you. She was really worried about you while you were missing. When I heard you’d been recovered, I thought she’d remember this week.”

“And it’s Friday,” Jean-Luc finished for him when the younger man trailed off.

“When I called the Enterprise,” Wesley explained before he folded his hands together on the desk in front of him. “Worf told me the mission to bring you home was interesting. There must have been some sort of computer glitch because usually my messages go straight to her, I don’t usually go through the bridge. Maybe you should ask Commander La Forge to run a diagnostic on the subspace rerouteing protocol--”

Jean-Luc raised a hand to stop him. “Thank you Wesley, I’m afraid-” he paused and wondered if there was a good way to say it. “I’m afraid there’s a simple explanation.”

To his credit, Wesley hid his both his embarrassment and amusement remarkably well. “My message went to my mother’s quarters, when they were empty my message went back to tactical. Worf talked to me and transferred me to your quarters.”

“Very astute,” he agreed with the young man as he breathed a sigh of relief that the conversation was not going to be as uncomfortable as he feared. “I’m sorry neither of us told you sooner.”

Wesley shrugged, again reminding him of a more serious version of Jack. “I thought it was coming,” he admitted easily. “Mom’s always really liked you. When you got assimilated by the Borg, the look on her face was the same as when Dad died. I’m glad you’re--” The young man stopped and grinned wickedly at his former captain. “This is off the record, correct?”

“Conversations I have in my robe rarely are,” Jean-Luc replied sardonically as he tried to guess what was on Wesley’s mind.

“She spends too much time alone,” Wesley confided leaning back in his chair. “I worry about her.”

“Well,” Jean-Luc said fidgeting with his robe. He searched for the words before he spoke. “I can assure you that she’s spent very little time alone of late.”

“I thought so,” Wesley replied as his expression became thoughtful. “Worf seemed to be hiding something. I suppose he didn’t want to be the one to have to break it to me that there’s something going on between you and my mother.”

The same calm that seemed to make Wesley seem so much older than he was, also made him incredibly difficult to conceal anything from. Clearing his throat, he leaned in towards the comm screen and folded his hands in his lap before he spoke.

“Wesley, I care very deeply for your mother. Since she came aboard the Enterprise she has been my closest friend and ally. I believed our relationship was fated to remain that way, and I was quite content to let it remain so.”
Grinning as if he knew the punchline to a joke Jean-Luc hadn’t heard yet, Wesley nodded. “No offense, captain, but Boothby said you never did know a good thing until it hit you in the face.”

Feeling his expression stiffen in shock before he forced it to relax into a smile, Jean-Luc let himself see Wesley for what he had astonishingly become, a young man who was capable, even briefly, of seeing him as an equal.

Wesley’s prepossession faded into an embarrassed blush. “Sorry, sir, I didn’t mean--”

Waving him silent, Jean-Luc shook his head and asked, “I hope I’m not going to regret introducing the two of you?”

“Nah, I promise we don’t actually talk about you that much. I should get back to my studying,” Wesley suggested as he lifted one of his padds. “I know mom needs her sleep. Don’t wake her up, maybe you could tell her I’m thinking about her.”

“Wesley,” Jean-Luc felt his lips moving almost outside of his control. “There is something else I need to tell you.”

The young man’s expresson darkened for a moment and he set down the padd. “Everything okay?”

“She may very well kill me for telling you,” Jean-Luc admitted conspiratorially leaning close enough to whisper to the screen.
“You may need to feign surprise when she does. I must confess this isn’t easy for me.”

“You love her,” Wesley interrupted in an effort to be helpful.

“Very deeply,” he agreed seriously before he sighed and lowered his head to his hands for a moment. “Wesley.”


Resting his chin on his hands as he stared at the remarkable young man who was the closest thing he had to a son, Jean-Luc reminded himself that Wesley deserved no less than his full honesty. “Your mother and I have experienced an abrupt change of circumstances that will have repercussions for you as well. Please forgive my bluntness but I can think of no easy way to tell you. Your mother and I are, well, Wesley, we’re having a child.”

Wesley spit coffee onto his computer terminal. Jean-Luc could see the droplets run down Wesley’s side of the screen as he heard the young man choke on what was left in his mouth. “Mom’s pregnant?” the question was almost an accusation.


“And you--”


Wesley grasped at a straw for a moment and asked, “Did Jeff’s dad put you up to this as a joke? I know the thing with the Orion traders and his sister wasn’t very funny.”

Taking a moment to process the reference to Wesley’s last roommate, Jeff Legano, Jean-Luc unfortunately had to shake his head. “I can assure you Admiral Legano had nothing to do with it.”

“Oh.” Wesley said numbly. A cloth cleaned the coffee from the computer screen and the cadet shook his head. “Is mom okay?”

Lying was impossible, but witholding the truth only made a twinge in his stomach. “She’s fine now,” he answered.

“How? Why? When is it-?” Wesley started to ask before he stopped himself. “Maybe I don’t want to know.”

“Approximately six months from now,” Jean-Luc answered what he thought was the safest question.

“Right in the middle of finals,” Wesley groaned as he poured himself another cup of coffee. Downing it quickly, he poured a second cup and stared at it. “Okay, all right, I really do need to study or I won’t be able to write anything coherent when I get to the essays tomorrow.”

Wishing he could offer him something to calm him, Jean-Luc drew him back to his studies. “Remember the goal of all first contact situations in the same, keep your ship and crew intact and avoid inadvertantly breaking any cultural taboos that will get you killed.“

Nodding to acknowledge he’d heard him, poor Wesley’s mind was somewhere else. “Captain,” he began seriously. “I need you to promise me you’ll--”

“Mister Crusher,” he bit his lip and corrected the reflex. “Wesley, your mother is the most remarkable woman I know. She will be foremost in my thoughts and deeds because having a child with her is a priveledge I seriously doubt-”

“-You’re going to be a great dad,” Wesley interrupted him this time. “One of the finest, in or out of Starfleet. Any time you doubt that, well,” he shrugged again and grinned. “You know where to find me. I gotta go. Good night, captain.”

“Good luck tomorrow,” he wished heartily. “Remember to let your first officer handle the first meeting and keep the initial away team small-”

“Got it,” Wesley cut him off with an embarrassed grin. “Good luck to you too. If you ever need to know why she’s angry with you, or what she wants for her birthday-”

“-I do know where to find you,” Jean-Luc finished for him. “Thank you.”

“Captain,” he started. Wesley’s face was suddenly incredibly serious. “I’m glad it’s you. Crusher out.” The symbol of the Academy abruptly replaced that of the remarkable young man Jean-Luc could nearly call his son. Keeping his head in his hands for a moment, he felt the incredible weight of his new responsibility settle over him like a cloak.

Leaving his chair, he crawled back into bed and placed his arms behind his head. Beverly immediately snuggled into his chest, her cheek finding the spot just beneath his collarbone she preferred before she was still. Resting a hand on her bare shoulder, Jean-Luc Picard held her close and realized the one frontier he’d been terrified of most of his adult life had found him when he least expected it.

Running his hand down Beverly’s bare back beneath the sheet, he settled it on the curve her spine adjacent to her womb. He’d never had this sort of domesticity. He’d never even been asked to share his quarters but this time even the crew seemed to be adapting. Worf had known where to find the doctor. Wesley had been admirally sanguine about the idea of a half-sibling.
Lwaxana insisted on sending them eclectic yet thoughtful gifts, many of them lavish and beautiful, though no more as stunning the Betazoid soul diamond that seemed to breathe light from its place of honor on his desk. He hadn’t had the heart to tell Beverly just how rare the jewel was. Jean-Luc wasn’t even sure Deanna knew. Lwaxana also seemed delighted to receive steady updates and according to Beverly, any long, rambling complaints of hers concerning just how difficult it was to maintain order in sickbay when she had the emotional discretion of a drunken Klingon.

Instead of being weepy, or overly sentimental, Beverly's emotional response to her hormones was a seething, sarcastic rage that was capable of eating through the a lifetime worth of carefully contructed buffers that kept many hurtful things unsaid. After Beverly had made the admission that Lwaxana was keeping her sane over subspace at dinner, he’d simply raised an eyebrow and decided to unobtrusively send the ambassador a thank you gift. It seemed in parenthood, just like space travel, the rigors were eased and the marvels compounded by company one kept. Jean-Luc Picard could think of none better than the good people he'd become surrounded with as he let himself drift into sleep.