Chapter 7

Beverly wiped the tears from her face and crossed the room. "Thank you for keeping an eye on her," she said a bit hoarsely as Jean-Luc handed her the baby. She moved to the nearby rocker and sat down.

"Yes, well... I, um, I guess I'll see you tomorrow then," he mumbled. He hated leaving, making his pace unconsciously slow. He paused, almost in the same place she had stood, when he heard her soft whisper.

"Don't go."

He turned to see that she had adjusted her clothes, and Renee was nursing. Bathed in the tranquil glow of starlight, it was one of the most beautiful sights he had ever seen.

"Jean-Luc, I-" she broke off. Her mouth quirked in consternation. "With you over there, I feel like I'm shouting."

He retraced his steps, stopping at her side. Nervously, Beverly lowered her gaze, her fingers fidgeting with the baby's blanket. He watched the light glint on her hair.

"I heard you talking to Renee." She hesitated, suddenly uncertain of how to proceed.

"It wasn't anything I haven't said before."

"Yes, but this time, I listened." She paused, but her voice still trembled when she continued. "Jean-Luc, I lived on anger for seven months, because anger was easier than remembering what you thought of me."

"I was stupid to think that. Insecurity was no excuse and blaming you for that insecurity was even worse." He clenched his fist to keep himself from reaching out to touch her. "I knew you. That should have been more than enough."

"I should have fought harder to make you understand. I've bullied my point across for far less important reasons in the past. I should have-"

"It doesn't matter now," Jean-Luc broke in, dropping to one knee beside her chair, taking her free hand in his. "We've both got to put the past behind us, concentrate on the future and Renee and how we're going to fit these three lives together."

She wouldn't let it go. This time she wouldn't let anything go unspoken. "But as you said a moment ago, I knew you, too. I knew you could never deny your child." She swallowed hard. "After I came here, the only time I cried was the first time she kicked. Not those little flutters that only mothers feel, but that first 'put your hand here and feel this' kick. I wanted so much to share it with you, to see your face when you felt your child move for the first time. It hurt to believe you didn't want to be a part of that."

"Beverly, don't. That's my regret, not yours. My own actions kept me from being able to share those earliest moments of our daughter's life."

"Are you disappointed, Jean-Luc? That she's not a boy, I mean? Someone to carry on the Picard family name?"

"She's already carried it to another generation. What more could I ask for? She's here, and she's healthy. That's all that counts." He lifted the hand tightly clasped in his and kissed it. "And if I haven't said it before, thank you for our daughter. Now you get some rest. We'll talk again in the morning," he said, rising to his feet. He smoothed her hair then leaned over to kiss her forehead.

Beverly swore silently. Sometimes, his chivalry was really annoying. She wasn't about to let him out of her sight after everything they'd been through. Faced with rather limited options, she took the most direct one. She reached up as he straightened and grabbed a fistful of his shirtfront. He braced himself with both hands on the arm of the rocker as she pulled him down.

She lifted her face to meet him. Their kiss was tender and deliberate, more caring than passionate. It was a gentle confirmation of love, not desire or need. He ended the kiss, whispering her name, but she didn't release him. This time, she brought his mouth back to hers for an altogether different kind of kiss. Hungry and demanding, their pent-up emotions were trying to make up for lost time. He lifted one hand to slide his fingers through her hair, pulling her closer.

Renee made her presence known as Beverly's hold on her tightened a bit too much. Her parents broke apart, smiling sheepishly. They were only beginning to realize how their lives had changed.

After the appropriate sound effects and apparel changes, they settled Renee in her crib. "Bonne nuit, ma chere," he whispered softly.

Outside the door, Beverly stopped, a slight frown creasing her brow. "Jean-Luc, are you sure about this?"

He wrapped his arms loosely around her waist, pulling her to him. "This what?"

"All this," she replied, waving her hand. "Me, a baby, a life turned upside down."

"Oh, that. Let's see, do I want the woman I love, who also happens to be my best friend and the mother of my child? Do I want a beautiful daughter, a child I never dreamed I'd have? Do I want to watch her grow into a strong, independent young woman and share every moment of it with her mother?" He kissed Beverly gently. "Why would I want any of this?" The second time, the kiss lingered. "Because now I don't want anything but this."

"It does sound lovely," she sighed, resting her head on his shoulder, "if a bit impractical."

"Why impractical?" He rubbed her back, much as he had done for Renee. Beverly could understand why the baby had quieted so quickly.

"Don't you think it's going to be rather difficult sharing things with you on the Enterprise and me who knows where?"

He laughed softly, enjoying the feeling of being able to hold her in his arms again. "No, that's easy. If we can't get you back on the Enterprise, then I'll just go where ever you go."

She drew back, her eyes widening. "But you love the Enterprise."

"No, I love you." Her raised eyebrow told him it wasn't a sufficient answer. "Yes, I do like being captain, and Will, Deanna, Geordi and Data are my dearest friends, but you are my family. You have been for a very long time."

It was her turn to laugh. "So where does Renee fit into all this?"

"Renee is a very special added bonus." He caressed her cheek. "Beverly, after you left, I was on a ship surrounded by people, and I never felt more alone. I don't ever want to be separated from you again."

"What will we do if I'm posted to another starbase or some colony?"

"I'll take a sabbatical. Spend a year or so being a full time father. Catch up on some of my archaeological studies. Love you and spoil you within an inch of your life." A kiss punctuated each sentence.

She caught and held the last kiss just to shut him up. "What about Starfleet? Think they'll be willing to give up their best captain?"

"I've given a large portion of my life to Starfleet, and career-wise, it's been good. But personally, now I want more. I want a life. I want you. I want Renee."

Beverly's heart soared at his words. She would never have asked him to make such a sacrifice... but if he was going to make the offer, she would certainly take him up on it. At the moment though, she didn't want to talk about their future. She put on a stern face, or rather the sternest one she could muster while being this happy. "You want this, and you want that. What about what I want?" Jean-Luc's face fell so quickly, she could barely keep up her pretense.

"I'm sorry, Beverly. I was being presumptuous. Um, what do you want?" Now that he had asked the question, he was terrified of the answer.

"I want to be loved and spoiled within an inch of my life." The smile returned to his face as she kissed him. "I want more than a career. I want a life. I want Renee." A kiss punctuated each sentence as she pushed him back against the wall. "Most of all, I want you... right now." Ten impatient fingers made short work of the fasteners on his shirt and were headed for the waistband of his pants when his hands grasped hers.

"Beverly, I... that is, are you... is this - are you sure?" his voice was thick as he tried to keep his head clear enough to form a complete sentence.

She pouted slightly as she stepped back. "Jean-Luc, I'm sure, but if you've changed your mind..." she started to turn away.

He caught her wrist, pulling her back against him. "I will never change my mind about you. But I am trying to mend a most grievous habit of making assumptions. I'm trying to get all the facts so I don't make another mistake." He brushed a wisp of hair off her cheek, reveling in the passion he saw in her clear blue eyes. "Is this safe for you? I mean, after the pregnancy and the accident and the surgery... I don't want to hurt you ever again - in any way."

"Dr. Brandeis gave me a full release just yesterday." She kissed his chest as her hands went back to their previous occupation. "She was quite specific, too. 'All physical activity', she said. I do believe she has joined the ranks of the matchmakers who want us to be together."

"Isn't it good of us to make so many people happy?" Another pair of eager hands joined the disrobing process as they sought to relearn each other.

Epilogue

They lay snuggled together. Beverly savored the feel of his chest pressed against her back, his strong arms wrapped around her. She had missed these simple little moments, just the two of them. Jean-Luc gently ran a hand over her slightly rounded stomach. "I wish I'd seen you pregnant," he murmured in her ear. "I'm so sorry you had to go through that all alone."

"It doesn't matter now," she said, repeating his earlier words as she stilled his hand, lacing her fingers through his. "Besides, you have seen me pregnant before."

"And you were beautiful then, but this would have been different."

Beverly turned in his arms, raising up on an elbow to look at him. "Because it was your child?"

"Yes, but that's not all." He reached up to caress her cheek. "Back then, you were young and bright with anticipation for the future. This time, that anticipation would have been tempered with the knowledge of the past."

She buried her face in his neck. "I had a past even before I married Jack. But you're right, back then I thought all the bad times were behind me." He hugged her tightly, murmuring softly in her ear. She loved the sound of his voice, especially the deep rumble as he spoke his native French. It made her curious about something. "What did you call Renee earlier? 'Ma chere'?"

"Yes, it means 'my dear'."

"It's different from what you call me," she probed shyly.

"Very different." He placed a finger under her chin, tipping her face up for a tender kiss. "Beverly, you are and always have been 'ma coeur'-my heart."

The End

/o/o/o/o/o/o/o/o/o/o/o/o/

"Within my heart
I know I will never start
To smile again,
Until I smile at you."

I'll Never Smile Again
By Ruth Lowe