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All the Star Trek characters belong to Paramount. This writer is just exercising them for her own amusement.
It is the 20th anniversary of Jack Crusher's death and a difficult day for both Picard and Beverly.
He was standing in the officerís observation lounge. It was Wednesday night. The night they normally had dinner together, barring complications involving some mission they were on. But today had marked the 20th anniversary of Jackís death and he knew she wouldnít want to see him tonight. So he stood alone, staring at the stars and wondering for the millionth time what he could have done differently. He re-lived each moment. Jackís communicator going silent, sitting beside his coffin in the shuttle, seeing the tears in Beverlyís eyes when she saw her dead husbandís body, holding Wesley at the graveside. He measured each word he had uttered to her and wondered if he could have said anything better, said anything else, that would have made the situation easier.
He dropped his head and laid his forehead against the cool pane of the window. He wondered where Beverly was at this very moment. Was she in pain as he was? Re-living the events as he was? He wanted to go to her. He didnít want her to have to go through the pain alone. Again. But he didnít dare seek her out for fear that his presence would hurt more than it helped. Feeling the pressure behind his eyes he took a deep shuttering breath. Perhaps that was why he didnít hear the doors slide open. Or perhaps he was simply too involved in his own thoughts.
He started when he heard her call his name. He turned quickly and by her stance could tell she had been watching him for several moments. Her face was a mask but he saw the pain in her eyes. Silently he held open his arms and was relieved when she stepped into them. They held each other wordlessly for a few moments. As they pulled away each seemed to realize that any burden is easier to carry if the load is shared. He uttered but one word.
She nodded her head in agreement and took his arm as they started toward the turbo lift. Normally she would have released it at the observation room door but tonight he put his hand over hers and held it there all the way to his cabin door.
He poured them each a drink and then sat beside her on the couch. "Penny" they each said and then chuckled together. The words he had ached to say for years tugged once again at his heart and he struggled to put a voice behind them. The knowledge that she had sought him out on this night of all nights gave him the courage he needed to proceed.
"BeverlyÖI want you to know how sorry I am that I didnít handle things better all those years ago. I was so lost in my own grief that I wasnít there for you as I should have been." The words began to come quicker as guilt overtook him. "I should have sent someone else on that mission. God knows there were other men who were just a qualified as Jack. I should have..."
Beverly cut in with a strong "Jean-Luc!!" He met her eyes briefly before dropping his eyes in shame. She continued on with a sharp tone, "What do you think I would have had you to do? Keep him on the ship? Tuck him into bed each night? You knew him better, and I should hope that you know me better, than that. He would have hated you for it. He would have requested a transfer before he allowed you to treat him like that, like a child. And it would have destroyed your friendship." More softly she said haltingly, "And you did everything you could for me. You had the same right to your grief as I had to mine. The way I remember it, you were more than kind. You helped explain things to Wesley and held me while I cried." Her voice broke as memories came flooding back. It tore at his heart and only deepened the guilt. For Picard had a greater burden on his soul. One that had caused him a deeper ache over the years. The reason that he had avoided her. The reason he felt such shame about his feelings towards her, especially at this time of year.
For the first thought that he had thought upon seeing her, the first thought he had when she had opened the door to receive the news that her husband was dead, the thought that echoed through his mind even as he spoke those horrible words of death to her was - Sheís free. His heart broke even before the thought passed. He had been in love with his best friendís wife for years but that friendís death deserved better than to be disgraced by such thoughts. Heíd had to forcibly reminded himself that she was still Jackís wife, even if Jack was no longer there. However, as he had watched her over the next few days the thought kept returning. Sheís free. That was the guilt that held him, the guilt that drove him away from her for all of those years. That was the guilt that plagued him till this day. As the years had passed he had convinced himself that in some subconscious way he had wanted Jack to die, wanted him to die so Beverly would be free, so that he would at least have a chance to capture her heart. And, in penance for the sin that no one knew about, he denied himself that chance.
He felt as though if he didnít move he would die. He stood rapidly and began pacing the room. She looked up in surprise. "Jean-Luc?" she said questioningly.
"You donít understand," he said sharply. "You donít know."
The Howard in her rebelled. She didnít know! How dare he! It was her husband that had been lost. Her husband that he had brought home dead. "Then why donít you explain it to me," she said with equal acidity.
"I did it Beverly. I gave the order. I watched him walk out that airlock. I made the decision to send him. I killed him!"
Beverly had known that Picardís guilt ran deep but she had no idea it was this strong. "Jean-Luc it was not your fault! You were the captain. Of course you gave the order. You gave all the orders! You didnít intentionally set out for it to happen!"
Silence reigned. He felt his blood turn to ice. Suddenly he wanted her to know. He wanted to see the hate in her eyes so he could block her out, maybe even drive her away, so he wouldnít have to deal with this pain anymore. In his mind her leaving had become an inevitability in his life anyway. Better to get it over with now. He resolved himself and turned to meet her gaze.
"What if I did?"
He saw the shock in her eyes; saw the tears well up in them. Before he could move she was out the door. He stood in silence, his heart breaking, knowing she was gone for good.
The minutes passed like hours. Beverly paced her quarters ceaselessly. One thought resounded through her head for the first hour Ė How could he say something like that? He must have known the pain it would cause her. Slowly her anger faded and rational thought prevailed. The thought then became why would he say something like that? She replayed the conversation in her mind over and over again. No matter how she turned it over she couldnít fathom why in the world he had utter that phrase. Surely he couldnít have intended for Jack to die on that mission. They were best friends. Each had loved the other like a brother. And she had seen the pain in Jean-Lucís eyes when he had brought Jackís body home, had seen it in his eyes each year for the past 20 years. Her pacing grew slower as her thoughts grew deeper, till finally she stood still in the center of her quarters. Slowly she turned and walked out of her cabin door.
Jean-Luc sat at the table in his quarters, a cup of Earl Grey, long since cold, at his elbow. He stared blankly at the table, numb and empty. He glanced at the message alert button on his desk. Soon that button would be flashing, announcing the presence of her message, her resignation. When the door slid open and Beverly walked in he thought that he was surely hallucinating. She walked resolutely to the table and placed her palms flat upon it, leaning over him.
"Why? Why did you say that? Why would you say that?" His silence brought her anger to the surface once again. "Damnit, answer me! You owe me that mush at least!"
He knew she was right and, besides, he had started this and was determined to see it through. "Youíre right. I owe you all the answers and then some." He stood and moved to the window. Between the guilt and her closeness he was having trouble breathing again. His heart pounded in his chest as he began to speak, "BeverlyÖyou know how I felt about you Ö you learned that on Kes-pret. To say I was in love with you is really an understatement. Youíre all I thought about. I used to sit in my quarter and write you letters that I never sentÖcould never send. I waited with baited breath for Jack to receive a letter from you, hoping against hope that he would read part of it to me. I compared every girl I met to you. You were my ideal. Perfection." He turned to meet her eyes. Having nothing to lose he added, "You still are."
Her heart melted but she refused to let it show in her eyes. He owed her more than sweet words and she didnít see the relevance of any of this to Jackís death. She asked again, but this time softer and with a little less anger, "Why?"
Jean-Luc felt his own anger blaze. Didnít she see? Was she determined to make him say the words aloud? "Do you know what the first thought I had was when I saw you that day? With Jackís body lying cold in the morgue?" Picard saw a little fear in her eyes now. Whether it was fear of his answer or of the tone of his voice, which had now grown cold and hateful even to his own ears, he didnít know. "I thought sheís free. Sheís free to be mine now. Can you even begin to imagine how that made me feel? What a sorry excuse for a friend I was. He wasnít even in his grave yet and there I was, lusting after his wife!" He couldnít continue. He sat on the couch, his shoulders shaking with the sobs that he refused to release. He felt he didnít deserve the pleasure of tears. Tears brought release and he deserved no release from this pain. He earned this pain and more.
Beverly stood in shock, the pieces slowly coming together for her. In his mind he had been rationalizing this for 20 years. For 20 years the guilt of that unbidden thought had reeked havoc with his emotions. The level of guilt he felt, which had always confused her before, now made perfect sense, as did his earlier statement. Somehow, someway, she had to help him passed this.
She moved to sit beside him on the couch and quietly called his name. When he didnít respond she laid her arm across his bent shoulders. That touch was the final straw for Picard. With a soft moan he began to truly cry. Beverly held him until the sobs quieted and then put her hands against his cheeks and raised his face until he met her gaze. "Look me in the eye and tell me that you sent him on that mission knowing that he would die. Look me in the eye and tell me it wasnít an accident."
He sat stunned at her question. "Jean-Luc, you didnít know," she said, slowly and deliberately. "You couldnít have known. It was an accident. Unless you and about 20 other officers faked every kind of report known to man, then it was simply an accident."
His heart refused to accept that. "But I must have wanted it Beverly. Somewhere in the back of my mind I must have wanted it. Thatís why I chose him instead of someone else. Thatís why he died."
"NO. No, I refuse to accept that Jean-Luc. You are a good, honest, decent man. You are now and you were then. You were simply doing your job. If it hadnít been Jack it would have been someone else. Would you have felt this kind of guilt if it had been one of the other officers?"
"No," he answered honestly, "but I wasnít in love with anyone elseís wife."
"Jean, you sent him on hundreds of missions, some more dangerous than the one he died on. You send people on missions everyday. You did not intend for him to die. You did not kill him." She looked deeply into his eyes and saw that this wasnít working. She wasnít getting through. There was only one thing left for her to do, only one thing left to say. It was the ultimate betrayal and she suddenly knew exactly how he felt.
"Jean-Luc thereís something you donít know. Something you have the right to know. Something you should have learned that night on Kis-pret but you were so concerned about my finding out about your feelings for me that you missed my feelings for you." She took a deep breath and looked into his confused eyes, "Jean I had feelings for you too. Even before Jack died. And it was more than simple attraction. At the time I denied it to myself but after Jack diedÖI had the same thoughts Jean-Luc. I thought it too."
They sat in silence for several moments. Picard was stunned beyond words. A slow sense of relief began in his stomach and slowly worked up his back to his shoulders. He sat back on the couch hard and turned an unbelieving stare on Beverly as she turned to meet his gaze. He saw pain there. Pain and fear and some emotion that he couldnít identify.
"But you were heartbroken," he began.
"So were you."
"You asked me to leave!"
"I didnít trust myself around you. I saw the way you were with Wesley and the way you so easily fit into our livesÖI didnít want to start depending on you because I knew you had to leave. And donít you think I felt more than a little guilt about the way I was feeling? Oh, believe me Picard, Iíve felt more than my share of guilt over that time in my life."
She leaned back on the couch beside him. Both were aware the touching of their legs, but each kept their hands in their laps.
"He deserved better," Jean-Luc said quietly.
Just as quietly she added, "From both of us."
Breakfast was a quiet affair the next morning. After Beverly had left the night before, or, more specifically, in the early morning hours, Picard had felt relief and a sense of hope. Maybe now things could settle down and they could get on with their lives. Maybe now the anniversary of Jackís death could be less painful for them both. However the awkwardness over breakfast had changed his mind on that front. Now he thought that perhaps it would have been best if their little talk had never happened. It seemed the only thing they had accomplished was to involve each other in what had previously been private pain and guilt.
Beverly gave him a brief sad smile as she left for her duty shift. Alone with his thoughts, Picard began to straighten up his cabin. The sudden flash of light startled him.
"Good morning, mon Capitaine. Arenít we just riddled with guilt this morning?"
"Shut up Q! And go away. Iím in no mood for your games." Picard said sternly.
"Come now Jean-Luc, get a hold of yourself. Why I felt your guilt and pain 10 parsecs away. Combined with those of Red Ö.why the two of you have the entire quadrant in an emotional turmoil!"
Picard guffawed and returned to his morning chores. He refused to be baited by the entity and set about ignoring him.
"I would have thought after our last little adventure you would have learned that little is to be gained by regret. Why, you chose to chance death rather than change your past."
"And I would again Q. ButÖthis is different. You wouldnít understand. And itís none of your bloody business anyway!"
"Such temper Jean-Luc. Have you thought about anger management classes? Besides Iím not here to help you. Iím here for my own purposes. Youíre just to be an unwilling participant." With a flash Beverly was suddenly in the room beside him.
"Jean-Luc whatÖ.Q! What the hell are you doing here?"
"Its nice to see you again too Beverly. It seems that every year at this time the two of you become so troubled that your emotions upset the sub-current of the universe around youÖ.oh never mind, you wouldnít understand the connection between those sorts of things. I just canít understand why the two of you just canít admit whatís really bothering you and get on with your lives. As humans go you two appear to be above average and yet you canít master a simple little task that lesser humans perform daily. So, as Q, I have decided to help you settle the matter once and for all."
"Q, I donít know what you have in mind but whatever it is we simply wonít participate. We are not interested in your kind of help!"
"Now, now mon Capitaine, you simply have no choice."
Picard heard the snap of his fingers and saw the blinding flash of light and realized with dread that he was in the middle of another of Qís games. But as he took in his new surroundings he realized that this was a game that could have disastrous consequences. Turning he saw the look of wonder on Beverlyís face.
"Jean-LucÖitís our house. The one Jack and I were living in whenÖ" her voice faded away. She didnít want to complete the sentence. There had been too much talk of Jackís death between them and she didnít want to add more. Especially here.
Picard nodded his head as he slowly looked around. He needed no reminder of where he was. He had spent many a bittersweet evening in this house. Heíd loved the way Beverly had always made him feel welcome, like a part of the family rather than some stranger just over for dinner. But he had hated watching her and Jack flirt and play as newly-weds do.
He idly wondered aloud, "What is Q up to?"
This time the flash didnít startle him nearly so much. "You take away all the fun Picard. But this once I will tell you Ďwhat Iím up to.í You have 1 week. One week in which to live in the past. You both have so many regretsÖfine. Come to terms with your feelings and make things right."
"Oh no Q. Iíll not fall for that again. Iíll not change the past."
"Nothing you do here will change the past for yourself or anybody else. You will simply have two memories of the way things happened. The way things originally transpired and the way they transpire over the next week. The only thing that can change is your relationship with one another and even that will only change in the present as you know it." With a flash he was gone.
Picard slowly ran his hand over his head and noticed a distinct absence of hair. He noticed that Beverly looked to be the same age as she had before they came here as well. Odd. Usually Q made them up in full costume for his little games. He concluded that they would probably look younger to anyone that they met from this time.
"Well what do we do now? Hell we donít even know exactly Ďwhení we are," grumbled Jean-Luc. Beverly turned and walked into what he remembered to be the kitchen. He followed closely. She found a padd on the counter and quickly scanned it. Her face turned ashen.
"What is it? Whatís wrong?"
"Today is stardate 2436.5. Jackís birthday."
"Then this is the last time we were all together before we left on the Stargazer for the mission to Naidirem." She nodded distractedly and began moving through the house once again. "Beverly," he said with a sudden tightening in his voice, "that means Jack is still alive in this time."
"Uh-huh," she said as she made her way down the hall.
"Well doesnít that surprise you? I assumed Q was returning us to the time just after his death." He hushed as Beverly slapped her finger against her lips and shushed him just before opening the door of the bedroom she had once shared with Jack. Suddenly a huge smile lit her face. Picard crumpled inside. He realized that he had spent this entire last week before they shipped out here with Jack and Beverly, a sort of prolonged birthday celebration. He would never make it through a week of her honeymooning with a husband that she hadnít seen in 20 years. It would make the playful flirting that bothered him so at the time seem like a day at the beach. This wasnít fair he thought. It was cruel even by the standards of Q.
Beverly held her arm open and beckoned him to the door. Wonderful, he thought, now she wants me to look at how sweet Jack is while he naps.
But it wasnít Jack that was napping. It was Wesley. He was curled on his side, mouth open, snoring softly. "My God Beverly. Heís beautiful." Beverly looked up at Picard with mild surprise but realized that he loved Wesley far more now than he did when Wesley was really this age. He had watched the boy grow and been a father to him in many ways. The same thoughts were running through Picardís head as he walked quietly over to the bed and knelt beside it. Wesley was almost 4 in this time period. He softly stroked the boyís hair as he slept. An ache arose in him that he hadnít felt since his return from Kataan, an ache for the children he would never have. As he noticed the similarities between this child and Beverly he realized that he was feeling a specific ache for the children he would never have with her.
Suddenly he heard the front door slam and a resounding, "Honey, Iím home!" Standing quickly he turned to face Beverly. Instead of the joy he expected to see, he found her gaze locked on him with a look of fear and uneasiness. He wanted to question her but there was no time. The house was small and Jack had quickly made his way to his wifeís side. "Hello beautiful," he said as he placed a kiss on the top of her head.
The world stood still for several moments. Jack looked exactly like he remembered, down to the very last detail. The air in the room grew thick. Looking at Beverly he saw that her eyes had filled with tears. He struggled with tears of his own briefly before he remembered that this was all just a game orchestrated by Q. He resolutely told himself that if he remembered that he would make it through the week.
Beverly manage a shaky, "Jack, your home early," before she stepped out of his embrace and into the room where Picard still stood. This confused Picard. He had quite hastily assumed that he would be unable to pry these two apart all week, but then he noticed that Wesley had been awoken by his fatherís voice and was now whimpering and rubbing his eyes.
"Johnny! What are you doing here so early? I thought you werenít coming till later tonight. You and the little woman got something going on that I donít know about?" Jack asked with a wink.
Picard cringed inside. Yes, in Jackís eyes, they probably did. Dinner twice a week and breakfast every morning wasnít exactly "nothing." The fact that they often ended those dinners, and an occasional breakfast with a soft kiss, did nothing to ease his discomfort. However he realized that Jack was only joking, as they often did, and so he laughed lightly and, wanting to steer the conversation along a more comfortable path, hastily said, "Happy Birthday, Jack."
"Thanks Johnny," said Jack as the two of them made their way back down the hall to the living area. "So far itís been a good one," he added with a gleam in his eye. Picard followed his gaze to find it resting on Beverly as she escorted Wesley into the kitchen for a snack. He knew that particular look too well. Many lonely evenings aboard the Stargazer had included Jack regaling him with stories of his life with Beverly. This particular look most often accompanied stories that were really far too intimate to be shared, even among the best of friends.
Picard cleared his throat in an effort to regain his composure. He was not prepared to deal with the swirl of emotions inside of him. He was still recovering from the shock of this transport through time, added to that was the jealousy he had always felt, only now it was stronger and there was an emotion that he was totally thrown by Ė he loved the way that Beverly looked caring for Wesley. It brought out paternal instincts that he had only rarely felt.
Picard began to feel somewhat better as he and Jack settled into the familiar chairs of the living area. They were joined shortly by Wesley, who was as bright and inquisitive as Picard remembered. Picard was soon amazed by how easily he fell back into the rhythm of his relationship with Jack. Though he struggled to remember some details that were fresher in Jackís memory than his own, the conversation was relaxed and easy. He was baffled however by the fact that Beverly remained in the kitchen. When over an hour had passed, he lightly suggested that perhaps Jack should check on her. When Jack failed to find her in the kitchen they quickly searched the house.
"She probably just stepped out for some air," said Jean-Luc with as much levity as he could muster. The last thing he need was for Q to have whisked Beverly off to some unknown location. "Why donít you stay here with Wesley and Iíll see if I can find her." To Picardís relief, Jack quickly agreed.
He neednít have worried. As he stepped out the door of their home, he caught a flash of red hair to his right. He hurriedly followed her. It took him several blocks to catch her as she was walking very quickly. When he had narrowed the gap, called her name. She turned with such force that she nearly fell. Picard rushed to steady her. As he took her arms he got his first real look at her face since Jack had made his sudden appearance. She, understandably, looked like she had just seen a ghost.
"BeverlyÖare you okay?" he asked with growing concern.
She shook her head weakly as he led her to a nearby bench. With one arm he held her securely to his side. With the other he pushed her hair away from her face and gently tilted her chin up, forcing her to face him. "What is it Beverly? Whatís wrong?"
"I canít do this. I canít go back in there and pretend like everything is okay Jean-Luc. I donít care how omnipotent Q is, he canít do this." With those words Beverly broke down and Picardís heart broke for her. As hard as this was on him, it was even worse for her. He could not even begin to imagine the emotions she must be going through. He didnít know what to say so he simply held her and rubbed her back softly as her sobs quieted. "I donít know what to say to him Jean-Luc. I donít know how to act. So many nights I laid awake and dreamed for something like this to happenÖto see him again, if it were only for an instant. To see his eyes, hold his hand, touch his face. There were so many things I wanted the chance to say to him. The last night we were together, next Friday night, we had a fight. A huge one. We made up later on subspace but I always wanted the chance to tell him Iím sorry for the things I said. But no, Q has fixed it so that I can see him but so that I have to act like everything is okay, like heíll be coming home for good in five years, not that heís leaving forever in a week!"
"I know its difficult Beverly. It is for me as well but try to look at it as a gift. You do have this week with him as least. An entire week to show him how much you love him. And perhaps you can avoid the fight, avoid any bad memories. Try to replace them with good ones."
Beverly sat quietly, staring at her hands. When she did not respond he spoke her name questioningly. She refused to meet his gaze but finally said, "I donít know if I can Jean-Luc. Iím not the same person I was back then. I was so young when Jack and I fell in love. So much has happened since then. Iíve grownÖchanged. Its one thing to lie in your bed on a lonely night and wish to have someone back, to suddenly have that person back is another matter all together."
Picard thought silently for a few moments. "I donít know what to say Beverly. Though Q is quite the trickster, he said we would be here for a week and I tend to believe him. He also said nothing we did here would change the timeline, so theoretically we could go back to your house and tell Jack the entire sordid story but somehow I donít think it would improve our week considerably. Weíd just spend the entire time trying to make him believe us. The only thing for us to do is to try to live this week as much like we did before as possible. As I remember it was a pleasant time for us all." A small lie, but one he could live with. In reality his memories of the upcoming week were painful to say the least. He had recently ended a relationship, one that he had briefly thought could withstand the lifestyle that Starfleet demanded, and he had been feeling particularly lonely. And, being as where they were scheduled to ship out in a week, and Beverly and Jack were not scheduled to see each other for almost 8 months, they were feeling particularity amorous. Initially Picard had feared that her foreknowledge of his death, and the fact that they would not see each other again after they left next week would only strengthen these feelings for Beverly, but given her recent confession Picard suddenly had hope that perhaps at least that part of the week would be more tolerable.
With a soft sigh he added, "Besides Iíll be here. And, as I remember, we were both long overdue for shore leave anyway." Noting that he had at least brought a small smile to her face Picard stood and helped her to her feet. He started to reach for her hand, as he would on the Enterprise after such a heartfelt conversation, but stopped short. For the entire trip back to the house he lectured himself on the ways in which he could and could not touch Beverly over the next week. Little did he know that Beverly was having a similar conversation with herself.
That night Picard lay in the guest room at the Crusherís home as he had many nights before. He listened to the soft movements from the room two doors down; doors opening and closing, murmuring too quiet for him to make out. Finally he saw the light underneath his door go out and knew that Beverly had made the last check on Wesley for the night. He heard the squeak of their bedroom door and then all was still. In an effort to distract himself from thoughts of what might be going on in the room down the hall he replayed the events of the evening in his mind.
Beverly had been much more relaxed after her walk and their conversation. While she was not the bubbly, flirtatious young woman that Picard remembered she was charming and sweet. And if things were a little awkward when their hands touched while passing a plate at dinner, or if conversation lapsed anytime their eyes met, Jack did not seem to notice. He did, however, express surprise over the amount of time that Picard had spent with Wesley. Picard didnít really think that he had done anything all that special with the boy but after reflecting on the discomfited way that he had behaved with Wesley 20 years ago he could see Jackís point. After all, the Jean-Luc of 20 years ago would have never had tied the boyís shoe, helped cut his meat, or offered to read him a bedtime story. But many times over the past several years he had wished that he had spent more time with Beverly and Wesley after Jackís death. It had been obvious when they had come aboard the Enterprise that the boy was in desperate need of male attention, and while Q said that nothing they did here would affect the future, he couldnít see the harm in laying down a better relationship with the boy.
Picard tossed and turned fitfully and finally resorted to breaking down warp core mechanics in his head in an effort to fall asleep. Somewhere between the intermix relay and the coil emitters he finally drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
The next few days passed much as Picard had remembered them. While there had been subtle changes, mostly in dinner conversation and things of that nature, the days fell pretty much on course. He spent most of his time, as he had 20 years ago, trying to avoid Beverly for fear that she or Jack one would realize the true feelings he had for her. However on their third full day in the past something out of the script, as Jean-Luc had come to think of it, occurred. He and Jack had spent the afternoon hiking just as they had 20 years ago. They stopped to rest atop a hill overlooking a majestic valley and, in the distance, a mountain range. As they sipped from their canteens Jack fixed an unusual stare on Jean-Luc.
"Jean-Luc," he began, and Picard knew that this conversation would be a serious one, for Jack never called him by his full name unless things were serious, "I want you to promise me something."
Quickly Picard racked his brain trying to remember this particular conversation. As Picard remembered it Jack had spent this resting time atop the mountain 20 years ago telling him that the only reason he was tired was because of his bedroom adventures of the night before.
"I want you to promise me," Jack continued, "that if anything should ever happen to me that youíll take care of Beverly and Wesley."
Picard choked on the water in his canteen. Now he knew that they had strayed from the original time line. This was not a conversation that he would have, or could have, forgotten. As he regained his breath he said, "Jack, donít even talk like that. Nothing is going to happen to you."
"You never know Jean-Luc," interrupted Jack. "Life is weird sometimes. Last night as I watched Wesley sleep I realized that I couldnít picture him growing up. I remember when I was growing up I used to think about sitting on my front porch as an old man, rocking with my wife. I canít see me and Beverly sitting there Johnny. I canít even see myself there. Its like all I have is now. Like there is no tomorrow. You ever get like that?"
Picard slowly shook his head. "No but that doesnít mean anything Jack." Unable to force himself to give the rousing speech on how Jack would probably outlive him by 30 years, that he knew, as a friend, he should give, Picard arose and offered Jack a hand. "Come on, old friend. We better get home before weíre both in trouble with that hot-headed wife of yours." It was a long quite trip home.
After dinner that evening Jack volunteered to put Wesley down for the night. Jean-Luc and Beverly kept the conversation light and in keeping with the time period as they cleaned up the kitchen. Neither of them wanted to be caught talking about the Enterprise, Will, or Deanna or any thing or body else that Jack might have found unusual. It would have simply made a difficult situation even worse. And the situation had grown more difficult as time past. Picard found that he missed his time alone with Beverly even more than he would have thought. This wasnít cause by the fact that Jack and Beverly were alone together but by the fact that he and Jack were often alone together. Beverly seemed to spend most of her time with Wesley, which astounded Picard in and of itself.
Jack still hadnít returned when they had finished their cleaning and so they stepped down the hall to see what was keeping him. They found both Jack and Wesley asleep on Wesís bed. Picard watched as Beverly removed the open book that was lying on Jackís stomach and gently removed two pairs of shoes. Rather than wake them to get under the covers she took a quilt that was lying nearby and covered them, giving each a kiss on the forehead before turning off the lamp and softly closing the door. Quietly they made their way back into the living area.
Though Jean-Luc wanted to sit down on the couch next to Beverly he didnít allow himself. Instead he took a chair across the coffee table. Gazing at the peaceful expression on Beverlyís face, he softly said, "Penny?"
Beverly smiled at what had become their secret joke. Thinking for a moment she sighed and then said, "I was just thinking that this is nice, us being here together like this."
Picard nodded. Though he still fought an almost constant jealousy he had found that he too was enjoying his time here. He was still disturbed however by the change in the timeline that had been proven by his conversation with Jack earlier. He knew Q had made a promise, but with Q in control he simply could not allow himself to relax or the incident to pass unmentioned.
"Beverly," he began, "I had a rather odd conversation with Jack this afternoon while we were hiking."
"Odd? In what way?í
"He asked me to look after you and Wesley if anything should ever happen to him." Picard noted Beverlyís sharp intake of breath and the equally hard look that she turned in his direction. He continued, "That didnít happen the first time. Iím certain of it. Something we have done has radically changed the timeline."
"Do you think weíve said something that would give him cause to think he wonít come back from this mission?"
"I donít believe so. Weíve both been especially careful with our wording, particularly about the upcoming mission."
"Mmm. Do you happen to remember what you two talked about the first time, 20 years ago?"
The question gave Picard pause. How honest should he be? He was almost certain that Beverly would not appreciate Jackís candor about their active sex life and he knew that it would cause them both great embarrassment. But he had never been especially fond of lying to Beverly. He decided quickly to try to a sketchy version of the truth.
"Actually we talked about you."
"Really? What about me?"
"Oh different things. Nothing particularly special" Picard could tell she wasnít going to let the subject go. Beverly had sat up and was looking at him hard. He saw just a bit of the Howard temper begin to flare in her eyes and hastily decided that he had rather her be mad at Jack for sharing such intimate details than mad at him for trying to misdirect her. "To be honest Beverly, 20 years ago on that hike Jack described what a wonderful night the two of you had spent together the night before."
"Oh," said Beverly with a look of surprise on her face. "Oh," she said again and found a spot on the table that suddenly needed cleaning. It wasnít that she was angry with Jack for telling Jean-Luc, goodness knows she and Deanna often shared intimate details of their love lives with one another, but she was embarrassed by his knowledge of that particular part of her life. And she, surprising, felt a little guilty as well. "Well," she said, driven by a desire to explain why the conversation had changed and perhaps rid herself of some of that guilt, "the reason he didnít regale you with such a story this morning is because there wasnít one to tell."
Picard wasnít quite sure he understood her. Unable to bring himself to ask, he simply stared at her quizzically.
"Nothing happened between us last night. Or any of the other nights for that matter," added Beverly almost unthinkingly.
"What?!?" asked Picard. "Youíre telling me that since weíve been here you and Jack havenít Öbeen intimate?" he asked in amazement.
"No," said Beverly with some degree of discomfort. She didnít like the tone of Picardís voice and she didnít like being questioned in such a condescending manner.
Noting the fire that lashed in Beverly eyes, Picard hastened to apologize. "Iím sorry, I just assumed. I mean heís your husband and, wellÖIím sorry." He let the silence lie until he saw the fire die down in Beverlyís eyes. When he noted that they then became a sea of pain and confusion he simply could not let the subject drop. "Beverly I know its none of my business but why havenít you? You only have a short time here and surely he must expectÖ"
Beverly didnít answer right away. He was right of course. "I donít know Jean-Luc. It just doesnítÖfeel right." She paused. This was taking their relationship to a new level. While each had had relationships aboard the Enterprise they had discussed them only when they had to and then never in detail. She looked up and saw his small nod of encouragement. He wasnít willing to dismiss this. With a shaky voice she continued, "When he kisses me I donít know how to feel. I should feel happy and content and fulfilledÖ but I donít. Its like Iím kissing an old friend, not a lover." She paused trying to find a way to delicately answer the last part of his question. "The first night we were here I simply told him I was tired." And sore, though she didnít say that to Picard. The morning of Jackís birthday had been a memorable session, even 20 years later, and she had been tired and sore that night though that hadnít mattered much back then. "Day before yesterday I told him I had an infection that would take several days to clear up. So far heís accepted that without question, if not without disappointment."
"I see," said Picard, though he wasnít sure he really did. All he was certain of was that he was extremely relieved by the fact that Jack and Beverly hadnít been together. Beverlyís relationships on the Enterprise had been few and far between and, even then, they had caused him much pain. Thankfully those relationships had also been brief and none with someone whom she was as serious about as she had been with Jack. He had always tried to see those relationships much as he had seen his own Ė as brief but important outlets for physical and emotion needs. The thought of Beverly sleeping with a man whom she was deeply in love with didnít sit well. The thing that was confusing him was that Beverly didnít seem to be in love.
With a half sob, half sigh Beverly lowered her face into her hands. Picard quickly moved to her side and wrapped one arm around her protectively. "Beverly, are you alright? Whatís wrong?"
"I donít know whatís wrong with me Jean-Luc. I should want to go in there, wake Jack up and make passionate love to him. Thatís what Iíve been wanting for almost 20 years. Why donít I want it now?"
The tears rolling silently down Beverlyís face tore at Picardís heart. He was desperate to comfort her. "Itís okay Beverly. You havenít done anything wrong. You donít have to do anything you donít want to do."
"But thatís just it Jean-Luc. I havenít done what I wanted to for the past 20 years. My love for Jack has kept me from letting myself love anyone else." She laughed bitterly, "Between your guilt and my illusory love itís no wonder weíve spent all these years dancing around our feelings for one another."
Picard went still. Beverly had just broken one of the cardinal rules of their relationship Ė never mention feelings. While his heart broke for her Picard knew it was wrong to take advantage of the situation. He did not want her to spend the next 20 years regretting the way she had spent this week with Jack and he certainly did not want to spend the next 20 regretting anything he did here. Beverly had been given a chance that many people would kill for and he felt she must not walk away from that lightly. So, though it felt like he was cutting his own heart out with a dull knife, he looked her in the eye and said, "Beverly I know this is painful and I know youíre very confused right now, but I want you to think carefully about something. In 3 days we will be back on board the Enterprise. You only have 2 nights left with him Ė ever. It is extremely unlikely that Q will ever give you this chance again. Are you sure that you want to let this week slip away? Do you really want to let your confusion subdue the desire youíve held in your heart for so many years?"
Picard dropped his head and looked at their hands, clasped together on his thigh. Knowing there was nothing left to say, and not really wanting to face the answers to the questions he had posed, he gave her hand a small squeeze and then made his way to his room.
But he was still awake when he heard the door to her room close several hours later.
The next day was a long one for Picard. He alternately cursed and congratulated himself. He knew he had done the right thing, and hoped that one day he would benefit from that, but when visions of Beverly wrapped in Jackís embrace came to his mind he could have cared less what the right thing was. He was even more uncomfortable that usual around Beverly and Jack that night and, making the excuse of having not slept well the night before, went to bed shortly after dinner.
Jack and Beverly cleaned up the kitchen while Wesley worked on a starship model that Jack had replicated for him that afternoon. Beverly was acutely aware of every time that her body brushed against Jackís, of the way he let his hand linger on her waist at he eased around her to put a towel in the recycler, the way he smiled at her as he held open the door to the living area. After she put Wesley down for the night, she returned to the living room to find Jack looking through a book that Jean-Luc had been reading earlier. As she rounded the back of the couch to sit beside him she lightly trailed her fingers over the back of his neck. He looked up and smiled at her and suddenly she remembered falling in love with him. Smiling softly to herself she settled on the end of the couch with her feet tucked under her.
"I donít know why Johnny reads these old novels. There are so many more interesting things to read in the computerís library," Jack said but she could hear fondness in his voice.
"Maybe he likes the feel of the book in his hand, of knowing that its been held and enjoyed by many other people over the years."
Jack looked at her with mild surprise. "You know thatís almost exactly what he said when I asked him about it earlier."
"Well," said Beverly with some discomfort, "I guess being around him so much this week had rubbed off on me."
"I guess if someoneís habits are going to rub off on you Johnny probably has some pretty good ones," said Jack as he reached for her feet and began to massage them.
"Mmm. That feels wonderful. Donít stop," sighed Beverly as she let her head fall back against the couch.
For several minutes Jack massaged her feet and then moved up to her calves. When he could reach no higher he tenderly said, "Why donít we move this to a more comfortable place?"
Beverly felt a knot form in her stomach but had spent much of the day reflecting over Jean-Lucís advice and had determined that he had a point. She had made up her mind not to pull away from Jackís embrace tonight. She stood, took his hand and followed him down the hall.
They paused at Wesleyís door and looked in on the boy. He was sleeping soundly. Beverly relaxed into the arm that Jack had placed around her waist. It felt so nice to stand here with him and watch their child sleep. She had missed this especially as she tried to raise Wesley alone.
Looking deeply into her eyes Jack steered her down the hall and into their room.
Though Picard had every right to be sleepy he was wide-awake. He had listened to the footsteps coming down the hall, heard them pause at Wesleyís door, and now heard their bedroom door close. In his mindís eye he saw Jack kissed Beverly deeply, saw him easing the button-up shirt off her shoulders. He tortured himself by letting himself imagine the way her skin looked, the way it felt, the way it tasted. Moaning softly her rolled onto his side and clutched the extra pillow to his chest. His heart felt like it was doubling over as well. Squeezing his eyes shut tightly he prayed for sleep.
Beverly entered the room ahead of Jack and stood somewhat nervously beside the bed. He crossed the room slowly, looking at her the entire time. When he reached her he simply stood and looked into her eyes for several moments.
"I love you Beverly. I always have and I always will."
She reached up to softly touch his face though her heart was lurching inside her. "I love you too Jack," was all she could say.
When he kissed her, she responded. When he tried to unbutton her shirt, she helped. But when his mouth came down upon her breast, she froze.
She couldnít do this. She felt her breaths coming in gasps but it was not from passion, but from panic. She had to stop him, had to get away.
"Jack," she said pushing against his chest, "Jack stop. We canít. Jack, I mean it Ė stop!"
"Beverly I donít care about catching your infection. I care about you. I want you. I need you," he murmured between the kisses he was placing on her chest and neck.
"Jack I mean it. We canít do this." When he looked her in the eye she tried to lie convincingly. She didnít want to make love to him, but she didnít want to hurt him either. "It will hurt if we do Jack. Itíll hurt me."
She saw the pain and rejection in his eyes and wanted to change her mind but knew she couldnít go through with it. There was only one man that she loved and he was lying two doors down, in pain himself.
"Okay," he sighed, "okay." And reached for the shirt he had hastily removed minutes before.
"What are you doing?" she asked with concern.
"Just goingÖout. Iíve got to catch my breathÖcleanse my mind." With a smile to soften the blow, he said, "Thereís no way I can sleep beside you in the condition Iím in. And walks have always worked better than cold showers for me. Iíll be home soon."
She waited until she heard the front door shut and then counted to 500. If he had forgotten something he would have come back for it by now. She stood and made her way to Jean-Lucís room.
Tapping lightly as she opened the door, she called into the semi-darkness, "Jean-Luc?"
Picard was already sitting up in the bed, with the lamp turned on low. He had heard their room door open and heard the footsteps leaving the house. Getting up he quickly made his way to her side and, placing his hands on her shoulders, said, "Beverly, what happened? Is something wrong?"
The words tumbled out of her quickly, "I couldnít do it Jean-Luc. I tried, really I did, but I just couldnít do it. I couldnít let him touch me like that."
Sensing her near-panic state he wrapped his arms around her and patted her back to quite her. "Its okay Beverly. Itís really alright."
"No," she said as she pushed herself back so she could see his face, look into his eyes, "You have to know why." Pausing she took a deep steadying breath. "I love him Jean-Luc. I always will. He was my first love and the father of my son. But Iím not in love with him. And I canít fall back in love with him, even though Iíve triedÖbecause Iím already in love with someone else."
Picard couldnít breath. He felt her hands run up his chest and cradle either side of his face. "I love you Jean-Luc. I think Iíve always loved you but I was so busy mourning Jack and feeling guilty over those feeling that I couldnít let myself give into them. But now, here, with him back I see that the feelings I have for you are real and true and so much deeper than those I have for him. Iím tired of being scared and Iím tiredÖ"but Beverly didnít get a chance to complete her sentence, for suddenly Jean-Lucís lips were pressed solidly to hers. She clung to him and returned his kiss with the fervor that she had tried so desperately to find for Jack. The blood surged through her body and she pressed herself against him and gasped into his mouth when she felt the evidence of his desire.
Abruptly he tore his mouth from hers. "We canít do this," he rasped, "Not here, not now."
Beverly knew he was right. She and Jean-Luc were a lot of things but they were not adulterers but if they made love in this place and time they would both feel like they were. Neither wanted to begin their relationship in a way that would cause that kind of guilt. They stood and looked at each other as they each tried to catch their breaths. When at last he felt that he had regained control of his body, he reached out to stroke her cheek. In a voice that was still hoarse with desire he said, "But the moment we get back on board the Enterprise I intend to prove my love for you."
Q let them suffer till just after breakfast the next morning. After all, with all the trouble they had caused they deserved it, he reasoned.
"Really Jack," Beverly was saying, "someday I think Starfleet will allow families on board starships," when suddenly the room flashed and she found herself in a strange new room. She looked around and saw Jean-Luc standing across the room. Between them was a king-sized bed.
Q was lying across it.
Hopping off the bed in one swift motion, Q applauded and said, "Well done, well done. That wasnít so hard was it?"
"Q," said Picard in the stern, hard voice that he reserved for hostile aliens and Q, "where the hell are we? I thought you said weíd be there a week and then youíd return us to the Enterprise."
"I did, and I will return you there for the last 24 hours if you so desire, but I thought given your recent revelation that you would like to spend that time here instead. Alone. Together."
Jean-Luc wanted to wipe the smirk off of Qís self-righteous face but the impact of what he was saying was affecting his thought process. "Where, exactly, is here?"
"Oh just a little place I whipped up for you" At Picardís doubtful look he added, "Okay, its Risa, but I figured even an old prude like you could loosen up here. So what do you sayÖwant to stay?"
Picard started to answer but then caught the sadness on Beverlyís face. Was she having second thoughts, regrets already? Fearing the answer he posed the question to Beverly as lightly as possible, "What do you say Beverly? Should we stay?"
"Yes. Yes of course." Beverly knew Picard could read her just as well as those old books that he loved so, "its just that I didnít get a chance to say goodbye to Wesley thatís all."
Picard hurried to her and wrapped his arms around her tightly, pulling her face into his chest. "Beverly, he wouldnít have known why you were saying goodbye. To him you are still there. Its better not to upset him." Pulling away he looked into her eyes and said gently, "but if you want to go back we will. We have the rest of our lives to spend together. It doesnít have to start today."
She smiled at him and this time he saw that the smile was genuine. She gently brushed her fingertips across his lips and said, "No. Iíve waited too many years for you already. I want you now."
"This is just too sickening for words. You two deserve each other," said Q as he flashed out of the room but the couple did not hear him. They were too busy making up for lost time.
This time there would be no regrets, no guilt. No need for a second chance.
If you enjoyed this story please let the writer know :
Email Rhonda at LittleRoo555@aol.com
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