AUTHOR: Little Red


SUMMARY: Picard/Crusher. Picard thinks about his place between two loves -- a ship, and a woman.

SPOILERS: All the Picard-and-Crusher's-past episodes (about Jack Crusher and the Stargazer, particularly) and "Journey's End". This takes place between "All Good Things..." and "Generations" (because I love the Enterprise-D!!).

DISCLAIMER: The Great Bird of the Galaxy. Bermaga. Paramount. I love you and don't intend to steal your toys!

FEEDBACK: feed me back at russiandeptwench@hotmail.com

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I've been writing TNG fanfic, of varying degrees of terrible, since I was 10. I'm feeling nostalgic and decided to try posting :). There will be one or two more parts to this, coming as soon as the Syntax Take-Home Final of Pain and Death is done!

He hadn't told her about his early bridge watch.

She certainly did not need to know -- the phaser energy consumption tests were no concern of hers. And if he had told her, she would have woken up at 0400 to replicate breakfast for him, bravely smiling through her two hours of lost sleep as she came up with something to say, as she always did. He sometimes sensed that she longed for silence, a complete vacuum of thought and intention between them, but she always covered that longing with sweet chatter or thoughtful debate. Perhaps she feared what might arise out of the void if she did not constantly intervene.

She covered the demons with small talk less for herself than for him, or at least, she thought she did. He knew it because she was content to sit quietly or humming to herself, absorbed in her own inner world of pruning her latest botany endeavour or reading until he looked up from his own book and started to meditate on her face, her features, her hands while she worked or absently bent the corners of the pages.

"Jean-Luc," she would say, breaking herself away from whatever it was and breaking his concentration so smoothly that it almost always seemed organic, "Geordi and I have been working on adapting Cargo Bay 3 so that it could function as an emergency triage center on twenty minutes' notice, but I was thinking that perhaps we should store all biohazard material in Cargo Bay 6 from now on to reduce the chances of contaminating the emergency medical stores. What do you think?"

"Yes, but if we do that--" and her lovely hands which had enraptured him turned back into surgeon's hands, and his love of the *Enterprise* swelled foremost in his heart as he debated policy with his Chief Medical Officer. When she was in uniform or, as when she began talking shop in his quarters late at night, symbolically so, he could not undress her with his thoughts. A captain could not love a woman as deeply as he loved his ship. During a pause in the conversation, when he had suggested using Cargo Bay 9 instead, she would close the book or shelve her pruning shears and he would be struck by how long her fingers were, and how the tenderness they offered against his skin as she kissed him was nearly blinding.

She would wake at 0600 and wonder where he was. She would not call him on the Bridge, or bring him breakfast to his ready-room. Toting food and leaving coded messages of sweet nothings on the intercom was the behaviour of young officers' wives. Beverly had once brought coffee and sandwiches, packed with simple love notes that Picard never got to see, to her husband when Jack Crusher was still a young officer, and when she had been still a young officer's wife, still in medical school. Jack had been young and in love and still newlywed enough to visibly stand taller with pride whenever she walked into the room and he realized that he could lay a claim to her. Young love was different in lots of ways. Sandwiches and sweet nothings could not come addressed to the ship's captain, and he imagined that Beverly had grown out of them as well.

She did not sleep enough, he reminded himself to keep from waking her with a kiss on the hand which had ended up on his pillow. When she slept, she slept lightly, able to awake instantly prepared for surgery or saucer separation, a skill he imagined had come from raising a son too curious, who must have woken her each morning as a toddler into something new and perhaps dangerous. When she slept her features relaxed so that she looked too young to have a grown man for a son.

0410. He shouldn't have spent time ruminating on her features or the past that had shaped them when there were phasers to fire and efficiencies to check. It was difficult to ignore her when she lay so silently next to him, unaware that she was being watched. If she saw his eyes resting on her lips, her closed eyes, her collarbone slightly exposed by the way her nightgown lay she would have found some way to distract him.

Perhaps she knew she had the power to weaken him.

She took a deep breath and her lips parted slightly. He never noticed her lips when she spoke in the officers' briefings, and yet they fascinated him now. He remembered watching them carefully as a young man, how he had silently marveled to himself over how perfectly they aligned when she laughed, or how her top lip curled just slightly when she smiled, but only if she was truly happy and not just pretending, or how they somehow caused him to feel an unjustified sense of loss when they pouted into exaggerated kisses at baby Wesley. Was it possible he ignored her lips now because they had caused him such guilt in the past? How dare he have known so much about the way Jack Crusher's wife smiled?

He would try to notice, should she smile in the officer's briefing that day, whether her lips still curled the same way.

He wondered why he felt he had even less of a right to pay attention to her lips now than he had then; now, when she willingly fell asleep in his bed and spent her off-duty hours curled up on his couch reading his well worn copy of Shakespeare's Complete Works, the copy he had never allowed anyone to borrow before her. Now he cherished her fingerprints on the pages as though the plays were unfinished without them. They were both careful. When she looked at him in the observation lounge and voiced her familiar refrains of concern over whatever plan they were considering, there was no way to tell that she had spent the evening on his couch or the night wrapped around him, whispering nonsensical things that made his heart want to stop beating, just so they could be the last things he heard. She closed her lips again and he wondered what it would be like to kiss her in the observation lounge, silhouetted by the stars in the expansive windows.

He would never do that. He would never kiss her in the observation lounge, surrounded by the ghosts of that morning's meeting and the hours of senior staff conferences which ordinarily filled the air of that space, not even if they were alone on the ship. Occasionally, when they were alone, she would move to kiss him in his ready room and, if there were no pressing matters of business to attend to, he wouldn't immediately push her away. He almost always felt guilty about it, as though it were uncaptainly to allow the Starship Efficiency Reports and the mission logs which littered his desk to see him paying attention to anything else. If he were as young as Jack Crusher had been, he would have wondered what it would be like to make love on the bridge of a starship, to have the woman he loved in the brain of the Federation flagship.

He never asked her whether she and Jack had made love on the bridge of the *Stargazer*. He didn't really have the right to know, but he assumed that they had. Jack had been passionate and impulsive like that, and a younger Beverly Crusher had been enchanted by that side of him, finding his unpredictability romantic and exciting.

0413. In his mind's eye he saw Data working at the Engineering station on the Bridge, preparing all the necessary calculations for the phaser readjustments which had to be performed before 0530 for all sorts of reasons Picard knew, and agreed with, and was forgetting in the tangle of Doctor Crusher's hair spread like a fiery halo on his pillows, which would smell like lavender for days. He touched the ends closest to him. He noticed, sometimes, how soft her hair looked when he saw her in sickbay. He noticed the way her hair clips sometimes came loose and dangled just out of her field of vision at mission briefings and once he had almost reached for it as she passed him on her way out when the meeting was over. He had stopped himself before he reached her and turned his attention back to the display on the table in front of him. He felt her turn to look at him, pausing in her stride and staring, curiously, convincing herself that she had imagined it and that Captain Jean-Luc Picard had not let his control slip while on duty for the likes of a woman.

"Yes, Doctor?" The pause had gone on too long, and his voice had come out too quickly, too sharply, but her reply sounded almost relieved.

"Captain, may I recruit some of Worf's security teams to help my people load medical supplies?"

"Of course, Doctor."

"Thank you, sir."

They had been lovers for less than a month. He was unsure exactly how this new association had grown on them. It had been less by emergency or alien intervention or threat of death then by simple resignation -- whether on her part or on his was beyond his capacity to guess. He asked her to dinner and on a whim he lit candles, and somehow in that light he noticed her eyes, the lilt of her voice, felt her presence near him as almost magnetic, as it had been over twenty years ago. He found that he could remember none of her words to him now or then but that he would have listened to her speak all night if she was willing. Her presence in his quarters was comfortable, too comfortable, so that a good book could no longer distract him from the expanse of the rooms when she was not there because all of the heroines seemed to speak to their lovers with her turn of phrase. That was all it was -- dinner -- and all it continued to be for weeks. She kissed him goodnight, and he closed his eyes to feel her lips more completely. The kisses took longer each night. It seemed unnatural that she should leave, only to come back eight hours later for breakfast.

Dinner was not always practical, for there were emergencies in sickbay for her to attend to which often kept her late. He waited for her, but he could not wait forever, and after he went to sleep he found himself leaving the door unlocked, so that, if she should come late, she would not feel uninvited.

There had been no declaration of love or even of intention. He had never made love to anyone as silently as he made love to her the first time. It was not the kind of explosive passion Picard would have imagined resulted from thirty years of unrequited desire, but a slow warmth which filled him and lasted for days, resurfacing in his thoughts when he least expected it. She had been silent too except for her staggered breathing, her brilliant blue eyes open and watching him, letting him explore every inch of her body knowing because she knew him so well that for him, exploration and discovery was a form of worship and that he could not let pieces of her escape him for fear that she would never let him this close again.

He had walked through every deck of the *Enterprise* the first free moment he had after transferring aboard, feeling and understanding the ship more completely as he did so, so that by the time he returned to his starting point he felt that she were completely a part of him and that he had never known a ship as majestic. The first time he fell asleep with Doctor Crusher next to him he wondered, briefly, whether the *Enterprise* could be jealous.

He could almost hear the phasers consuming energy less efficiently already because he was not on the bridge yet. 0417 and he had been unable to tear himself away, as though she had placed a medical restraining field over him to keep him confined and quarantined against the day outside and against yet another officer's briefing with Chief Medical Officer Beverly Crusher sitting just a few chairs away, entirely untouchable over parsecs of duty and the chain of command. It was unspoken. Something would have to break, wouldn't it? He could be her commanding officer and her lover, maybe, but he couldn't be them both at the same time. They didn't even joke about it, as she and Jack had used to do in Picard's presence, when she had concocted a lofty scheme to get posted to Jack's ship, and he had agreed on the condition that, once he was her commanding officer, she would have to stop bossing him around.

She twisted around and drew her eyebrows together, and he wondered which dream was causing her pain. He didn't know if she still dreamed of Jack but he imagined that she must, if only because Picard thought of Jack so often when he looked at her. Or perhaps her mind was conjuring images of Wesley in whatever form he had taken, following the traveler around the universe because her son was too bright for the three dimensions he had been born into. She kept photographs of Wesley next to her bed and Picard wondered whether she missed those pictures when she slept in his quarters. She never mentioned it. Her fist tightened around the sheet and she looked almost about to cry, but he did not wake her, not knowing if he could stand the look in her eyes when she opened them and realized her husband and son were only hers in dreams.

They would never be married. Picard would never ask her. She would change her name as she had the first time, and robbing her of Jack Crusher's name would seem to kill the man all over again. She was still Jack Crusher's wife -- widowed twenty-odd years but *still* he felt as though he were sleeping with another man's wife, stealing some sort of honour from her every night.

Her youth had never struck him more than before Jack's funeral when she sat receiving in-laws with five year old Wesley on her lap, clinging to her shoulders lest he lose her too. He was too young to truly understand, Picard had assumed when he had arrived at the Crusher's front door to bring the news because he owed them that much. Wesley knew so much. Picard hadn't wanted to say anything in front of the boy and had asked Beverly to speak to him alone, but Wesley had refused to leave, knowing that something life shattering waited behind the young Captain's lips. That entire period of his life had turned to blur, with nothing but emotion and a few moments which lay perfectly clearly in his mind, unjoined to each other or to anything else. Her face was all over those memories, as she looked too young to have been married to Jack and far too young to have lost him, so that Picard almost wished he could keep from telling her just a few weeks more to allow her to live awhile longer first.

He couldn't remember where in her house he had broken the news. Sometimes he remembered it right on the threshold, so that escape would be easy should she attack him. Sometimes he remembered it in her living room. The worst times he remembered it in Wesley's nursery, where a holograph recording of Jack reading a story had kept the young boy company while his father was away on long missions under Picard's command. He thought that she had been in the kitchen when he entered the house but had coaxed her away from it, afraid that she would drive the bread knife into herself the way Picard felt like doing so that he would not have to see her face. He could not remember what he had said or how he had phrased it -- it didn't matter, for he was certain that she had suspected his purpose as soon as he walked in the door -- but once he confirmed her suspicions in broken, stammered phrases, a noticeable change came over her. Her face remained the same, almost eerily so, locked into an expression of concern, but Picard had seen something inside of her that he doubted he ever had any right to see as the deepest part of her soul or psyche or whatever it was pieced together her future from Picard's stammered words and went into spasm. It would be weeks, maybe years, before the rest of her could catch up.

He did not remember anything she said to him over the next few days, although she must have said a great deal for, no matter how he had tried to escape, he had been beside her almost constantly until the funeral. Picard did not see much the day of Jack's funeral, but what he could piece together had Beverly in a dress uniform, not the standard black veil of a mourning widow. After the funeral he had walked her home -- he could not recall where Wesley was but he knew that they were alone on the long walk across the city. On the doorstep she had begged him to stay in a voice he had seldom if ever heard her use again -- truly desperate and pleading and even afraid to enter the house which appeared to have grown in size now that she was its sole owner.

Amid all the loss and guilt and pain in his head and all of the same and more that he saw in her eyes he could not find the right course of action. He saw himself cast as the villain, and saw Beverly Crusher looking more weak and vulnerable and young in that moment than she'd ever allowed herself to be before or since, as the doomed Lady Anne of Shakespearean lore, cursing Picard with her beautiful eyes for making her so young, so old a widow. And some part of Picard's brain realized that Jack Crusher was gone, that Beverly was no longer married, and that everything he had felt for her for so many years now had no tangible barrier keeping it within him and he was almost sick right there as he swore he would never touch her, never get near her again if he could help it. He thought of Richard Glouster propositioning Anne and felt that his very presence endangered Beverly's life.

"I couldn't do that," he had said, and she in her distress had not thought to count all the things that he couldn't do, but he did for the next two weeks as he awaited the *Stargazer*'s refitting to be completed. He stayed far away from anywhere where he would see her, staying awake throughout the night as his thoughts rested on that look in her eyes, needing him and him unwilling to help her. He could not love her as he did, and so he left her without the friendship she needed, feeling within him how the vacuum of those weeks must have killed her far more than it did him, and that tea together might have saved her a few degrees of indescribable loneliness but for the sake of righteousness and selfishness and whatever else, he denied her even that. That look on her face as she stood in the doorway came to symbolize all of his guilt and horror over the loss of the *Stargazer* and for all other losses which would come afterwards in his career of lives lost in the name of victories and stalemates.

He wondered if she remembered how he had abandoned her, or if it had been lost in the far worse pain of losing a husband -- if she still woke up occasionally feeling trapped and seeing only his face on that night as he had tried to apologize while making his escape. He had tried to explain himself to the image of her in his mind for years. He could not have stayed, could not have even stayed up the night keeping her company as any good friend should have done, as Jack would have asked him to do. He could not have stayed because eventually, after weeks or months or years, the afterimage of Jack's presence between them reminding them that they had always been *three* in conversation in that living room, would have disappeared for a few moments and Picard would have fallen in love with her again, and he could not love her, couldn't touch her or sleep with her because then he would be benefiting somehow from the death of his best friend, and that could never be allowed to happen. Jean-Luc Picard was not that much of a villain.

She wrote him a few letters once he was back out in space and he wrote back -- the distance of light-years comforting enough and Jack's presence on the *Stargazer* strong enough to remind him not to ignore her entirely. She moved out of that house and found that she could sleep again, and told him how Starfleet was planning to send her away from Earth if she could find a place where she thought Wesley would be happy. The notes he wrote back were almost cryptic, the subspace equivalent of a postcard, more of an acknowledgment than an actual reply. Six months after Jack's death she asked him to come and see her -- he forgot where she was posted at the time -- saying that she missed the part of Jack that was still with him, and because she thought it would be good for Wesley to be close to Jack's best friend.

She feared that she was losing touch with everything that had been a part of her former life, and she thought that seeing him would help her. She was afraid that maybe she was not missing Jack enough, that maybe her concern for their son had kept her from doing Jack justice in mourning. She found herself remembering all the things that had angered her in her marriage, all the things she had thought would disappear to leave only good memories, and wanted to figure out where she could find the assurance that she really had loved Jack as much as she could have because she had not yet figured out how to love him now that he was gone. She was horrified to find that she sometimes felt angry with him for not coming home now, the way she had when his missions lasted longer than promised, as though his absence was still somehow his choice and his fault. She had caught herself thinking that she would mourn later, once Wesley had settled into school. She worried that Wesley would forget his father entirely and yet hated to mention Jack in the boy's presence for fear of traumatizing him worse than necessary. He saw in her letters how she doubted her every move in a way that was entirely unlike her. She said in closing that she was glad she could talk to him because she didn't know anyone else who would understand, and Picard could almost feel her tearstains on the communiquĊ½.

That letter had been more personal than the others, more like a diary she had allowed him to see than her standard keeping-in-touch-for-fear-of-losing-touch communiquĊ½. He felt again the bond that he had always shared with her in a way that sometimes seemed to escape even her husband. He never wrote her back, although he kept the letter. He probably still had it somewhere among his personal effects. He reread it periodically for years until it was too late to ever reply to it. He read it almost as a way to punish himself because of the guilt which pounded into him like hammers each time he did until eventually the pain felt good and reminded him that he was still alive.

He had been thoroughly unprepared for her arrival on the *Enterprise*, with her son half-grown and her skin a great deal thicker. Her face in pain on her front doorstep had been so prevalent in his mind for so many years that it was hard for him to adjust to seeing her any other way. To his credit, he learned fast. She was a good doctor. She belonged on the *Enterprise*, the Federation flagship. It didn't matter what had or hadn't happened between them all those years ago.

And now, all of a sudden, it did. It did because he paused before ordering her on dangerous away missions, because his breath caught when she leaned too close to him during staff meetings, because she was still Doctor *Crusher* and every time he called her name over the comm he remembered exactly who she was, and whose wife.

Her eyelids fluttered and he willed her not to wake up, holding his breath until it was clear that she was fast asleep again. He slipped out from under the covers, berating himself for allowing his thoughts to distract him away from the Bridge and the phasers. It was harder to be on duty in the dark, in his bedroom. Sickbay and the Bridge were never gone from them, but they slipped away sometimes into the background, leaving him just a man and her an undeniably beautiful woman. In her sleep she recognized that he was no longer there and moved toward the centre of the bed, wrapping her fingers around his pillow. She would be upset that he hadn't told her about his early Bridge watch, but she wouldn't tell him so. He dressed in the dark.

To Be Continued