Picard, only half listening to the reports being given, marveled that he had been doing precisely the same thing this time yesterday, but today, his entire life was different. He had never suspected that after the usual meeting and an uneventful shift his life would be changed so drastically by a simple trip to the holodeck.

Here, in the observation lounge, he could almost believe he had dreamed it - that Beverly loved him, that they had made love, not only on the holodeck but in his quarters as well, long into the night.

Surprisingly, what made it all real was the continued snickering of his first officer. He knew that Will had instantly recognized the change between the captain and soon-to-be former CMO, but Picard was irked by the sly, non-verbal ribbing he was getting from the man to his left.

He looked around the table, seeing not the officers ranked among Starfleet's finest but the people there. The irritation he had felt a moment before vanished. He knew how much they all wanted Beverly to be happy... and as he recalled her kiss that still lingered on his lips, he hoped they wouldn't mind if that happiness included him.

Picard had known it was only a matter of time before the change in his relationship with Beverly hit the ship's grapevine, and it was bad enough to endure his first officer's ill-hidden smirks throughout the staff meeting, but Deanna's dreamy smile was too much.

He asked them both to stay after the meeting adjourned. "All right, Counselor, what exactly did Commander Riker tell you?"

Deanna looked at Will in confusion before replying, "He hasn't told me anything, sir."

"And yet both of you have been smiling like... like..."

"Like we're thoroughly delighted for you?" Riker supplied.

"I'm not sure what's going on..." Deanna said with a piercing, sidelong glance at the younger man who was trying to pretend innocence by smoothing his beard, "an uninformed state for which the Commander will pay later. I, on the other hand, was only reacting to the contentment that has been radiating off of you since you entered the room."

Picard turned with a look of mock amazement. "I'm amazed at your restraint, Number One."

"To be perfectly honest, so am I, but then again, it isn't my place to discuss my commanding officer's love life. My only duty is to be happy that he has one." He wisely concealed another grin as he saw Picard's ears turn red.

"And are you so sure I have one?"

"Well, sir, you blushing while Beverly giggled would usually indicate her joke at your expense, but you were holding hands in the corridor. A public display of affection is very unlike you." The visible smirk was back as he asked, "Are we going to get the details?"

"Will, stop," Deanna ordered. Only because she knew she would get them from Beverly later, she turned to the captain and said, "The details don't matter; your happiness - and Beverly's - is what's important."

"I said something very similar yesterday, though for a rather different reason."

Riker's face brightened. "Will Beverly be returning to work soon?" She had always been his favorite doctor, not just his friend.

"No, that's another recent change. This is unofficial at the moment, but Beverly is resigning her commission. She's also not going back to medicine in the foreseeable future."

"I don't understand," the counselor said in dismay, "I thought things were so much better for her now."

"It's all right, Deanna. This is a positive move for her. I'm on my way to submit her resignation to Admiral Nechayev and request permission for Beverly to stay on the Enterprise despite her non-Starfleet status."

"And if she can't stay?" Riker asked cautiously.

Picard hadn't seriously considered that scenario, but his reply to Riker's question was swift and sure. "Then we'll find some place that needs a former doctor and a former starship captain. Luckily, I know how to make wine and have a place to do it. That would leave us only with the problem of finding a way to keep Beverly out of trouble."

Neither Will nor Deanna had anticipated that kind of response, and it showed on their faces.

"All of this is premature," Picard assured his stricken officers. "I haven't even given the Admiral Beverly's resignation, and -."

"Does that mean I can't go talk to her about it?" Deanna asked, interrupting in frustration before she realized what she was doing.

"She's got a lengthy session scheduled with Counselor McKenna later this morning, but I'm willing - this once - to give up my lunch date with her," he raised a cautionary hand, "on the condition that you please don't discuss this in Ten Forward. Beverly is going to be mad enough at me for telling the two of you anything in the first place."

"Don't worry, I'll blame it on Will," Deanna promised, wrinkling her nose at the first officer. "She'll believe that!"

Will groaned at the prospect of Beverly's 'revenge'.

x~x

They were nearly through the session, and Judith couldn't stand it any longer. "I feel like I've been talking to the Cheshire cat for the last hour and a half. What are you grinning about?"

The grin in question widened. "I told Jean-Luc that I'm resigning my commission."

They had discussed the decision in several sessions, and Judith knew Beverly's only reservation was how Picard would handle it. "And his reaction?"

"He said he doesn't care if I'm an officer or a doctor, he just wants me to be happy."

Judith had suspected as much and was surprised that Beverly had managed to keep the news to herself for so long. "Good for you... and him. What now?"

"He's contacting Admiral Nechayev this morning to deliver my resignation and to talk to her about letting me stay on board. I think he's going to try 'the morale of the crew', or permanent liaison from Caldos, or some such thing - but that's only because his image won't let him use the title I came up with."

Judith missed the mischievous glint in her eye or she would have been more suspicious than curious. "And just what would that title be?"

"The Captain's Lover."

Judith carefully lowered the coffee cup that had been half way to her mouth. "Is that an official title or merely for shock value?" She amazed herself by speaking in a normal voice.

Beverly's voice, on the other hand, was full of innuendo and satisfaction. "As of yesterday afternoon... and evening... and last night, it's very official." Clasping her hands together, she raised her arms over her head and stretched languidly as though unkinking overused muscles then grinned wickedly, "But the shock value does make it more fun!"

"Congratulations. This takes us back to my previous question - what now?"

"Well, I'm not moving in with him if that's what you mean." 'Not immediately,' she thought to herself. "Other than that, I'm just going to enjoy being happy for the first time in a very long time."

x~x

Deanna was waiting in Judith's outer office when she and Beverly emerged from their session.

"You're not Ensign Qu'af, and I know he's my next appointment."

Shutting off the padd she had been studying that contained her own appointment calendar, Deanna assured her, "I'm not here to change your schedule, I'm here to change Beverly's. The Captain has given me permission to take his place at lunch."

Hands on her hips, Beverly frowned in feigned disapproval. "Oh, did he now?"

"Yes, and he made it eminently clear that this was a one time occurrence. He knew I couldn't go all day without talking to you about..." Deanna trailed off as she realized what she had let slip.

"What did he tell you?"

"Just the bare bones. You're leaving Starfleet, and you're not going to be practicing medicine for awhile. He was vague about what's happened between the two of you, but he has been grinning like a schoolboy all morning long."

"Oh, and I suppose Will has been thoroughly enjoying that." Beverly clearly remembered the look on his face the day before.

"Will's primary concern is whether or not I plan to follow through on my threat to blame him for basically forcing the Captain to tell us what was going on before the two of you could do it together."

Judith couldn't resist asking, "Who is he more afraid of... you or Beverly?"

"Me," Beverly answered. "He knows I've got more free time to plot a suitable revenge."

Deanna seconded the opinion, adding, "And that your sense of humor is far more twisted than mine."

That comment earned one of the redhead's most wicked grins. "Let's see how paranoid our gallant First Officer is. Watching him wait could be more entertaining than actually doing something to him."

x~x

Eating had been a quick process due in equal parts to hunger and an urge to concentrate on conversation when they didn't have to worry about food getting cold.

Ensconced in opposite corners of the couch, Beverly had given Deanna as many details about her now very personal relationship with the Captain as she could without compromising Jean-Luc's privacy.

Deanna saw the barest hint of a frown begin to crease her friend's brow. "I know you're happy with the Captain, but is there something else bothering you?"

"You're getting good at reading me without your empathic abilities."

The diversionary tactic was a good try but unsuccessful. "Thank you, but that doesn't answer my question."

With her elbow resting on the back of the couch, Beverly propped her head in one hand while she traced the leaf and vine pattern of her skirt with the other one. "In my session today, I was teasing Judith about my new title being 'The Captain's Lover'."

"Okay..." Deanna said slowly. Although she had wanted her two friends together for years, it was going to take some adjusting to the fact that they had finally seen the light, and Beverly's openly irreverent attitude wasn't making it any easier.

"Well, for him to keep his title as Captain, he's going to have to show up on the Bridge once in awhile. Since I'm giving up my career that leaves me at loose ends. So tell me Deanna, what am I going to do with my life?

There was an intensity to the blue eyes now fixed on her that raised the counselor's instinct in Deanna. "How did Judith answer that question?"

"Even more evasively than you just did. I'm not looking for counseling right now, I'm looking for ideas. Jean-Luc once suggested that I could teach dance or enlarge my theater program, but I'm not sure that's enough to keep me busy."

"Those are excellent creative outlets, but you're probably right. What else would you like to do?"

"That's the point of this conversation," Beverly said with exaggerated patience, "I don't know what else to do."

Deanna shook her head in disbelief. "Beverly, you've got the widest array of interests of anyone I've ever met. Outside of medicine you have professional experience in Engineering, Command, Tactical and Ops. Ethno-botany is a hobby for you. You're the one who got Vulcan, Klingon and Takaran scientists to come to the Enterprise to study a Ferengi's theory of metaphasic shielding."

"Which got Dr. Reyga killed," Beverly interrupted, "nearly caused an intergalactic incident and almost got me booted out of Starfleet."

"Not bad for a first effort in scientific diplomacy."

"That's not funny," Beverly pouted.

Deanna giggled. "Stick that lip out any farther, and you'll trip over it."

The other woman rolled her eyes. "You got that one, too?"

"I think every parent from every species with lips and the ability to pout has used it. Let's get back to the point. I know that you've been over all this with Judith, so I'm asking only for my own peace of mind - you're sure about giving up medicine?"

Beverly sighed, not so much at the prospect of going through everything again, but at a lingering disappointment in herself. She tried to shrug it off, knowing it was the only viable option at this time. "I told Jean-Luc yesterday that there's no joy in medicine for me anymore. Doctors can't distance themselves from the pain and death if they don't take joy in the successes. I can't do that right now."

"When did you decide to become a doctor?" Deanna's curiosity was genuine. The senior staff had come together aboard the Enterprise when each was firmly ensconced in their chosen field, their careers well documented. It never occurred to any of them to wonder how the others originally started their trek.

"In the womb." Beverly chuckled at her own hyperbole. "I'm almost serious. I don't remember it as a conscious decision. There was never anything for me but medicine."

Deanna marveled at the absolute conviction of her friend's reply. She hadn't chosen counseling until she reached university level, but once the decision had been made, she hadn't wavered. At this stage in her life, she couldn't imagine giving it up... which suddenly gave her a deeper understanding of the depths of Beverly's trauma that had pushed her to this point.

"Even while you were Rosemary I thought of you as 'Dr. Crusher'," she murmured softly. "It's going to be odd to think of you as simply 'Beverly'."

Hearing a short, sharp gasp, she looked up to see the last of the blood drain from Beverly's face.

"I hadn't ever thought of it that way." Beverly laughed harshly. "I spent so much time worrying about how Jean-Luc would react that I didn't think beyond telling him." Beads of sweat dotted her brow. "I'm not a doctor any more, Deanna. I've never been anything else, never thought of being anything else. I don't know anything else!"

Quickly moving closer, Deanna took her friend's hands tightly in her own. "Beverly!" she said sharply.

The blue eyes that looked up at her held the same terror as Rosemary's when she had awakened in the unfamiliar Sickbay.

"Beverly," the counselor's voice was softer now, "it's all right. You haven't stepped off the edge of the world, but even if you did, we're all here to catch you."

x~x

Deanna was leading Beverly through a calming, deep breathing exercise when she heard the door hiss open behind her and looked over her shoulder in time to catch the puzzled look on Picard's face.

Picard had indeed been caught unawares when the door opened automatically for him. He was trying to figure out when Beverly had time to program the sensor to recognize him when he suddenly realized he had walked into something much more important.

He took in Beverly's pale face and saw the lingering traces of panic in her eyes. "What happened?" he demanded tersely as Deanna moved to let him sit next to Beverly who all but fell into his arms.

"Reality finally overcame sexual euphoria," the Betazoid woman stated matter-of-factly.

Picard raised an eyebrow, more at her phrasing than her bluntness.

"She's coming to grips with the fact of her decision to leave medicine," Deanna elaborated. "Talking about what she would do from now on didn't bother her. She only panicked when I mentioned that she wasn't going to be doctor any more. The idea of redefining oneself can be a daunting one."

"Redefining?"

"It's always, 'I'm so-and-so' in relation to 'something else'. When we're growing up, it's family - she was Felisa's granddaughter, you were Robert's younger brother. Even now, Worf is 'Son of Mogh', and I'm a 'Daughter of the Fifth House'.

"In adulthood, it changes to career. She's been Doctor Beverly Crusher for more than half her life. We use ranks or titles more often than names - captain, counselor, commander, doctor. Given that Beverly has just decided to give up something that is part of her very essence, I think hyperventilation is a mild reaction."

"But why a reaction at all now?"

"As I said, reality set in." She could tell he still didn't understand. "Some decisions aren't real until we share them with someone else."

Chin set defensively, Beverly said, "Judith knew."

"The counselor/patient relationship is an entirely different thing. You discussed the decision, but did you talk about the consequences... other than how the Captain would react?"

"No." Beverly's reply was muffled as she buried her flaming face in Picard's shoulder. "Judith kept trying to get me to talk about what I would be doing," she twisted enough to peer up at him, "but I spent most of the time worrying about disappointing you."

He wisely refrained from pointing out that he should have been her last consideration, not her first.

Deanna thought a moment. "As I said before, you talked quite easily about what you might do in the future. You were even relatively calm when you listed the reasons for leaving medicine. I think you need to talk to Judith a little more about how leaving is going to change the way you think about yourself."

Disengaging herself from Jean-Luc's loose hold, Beverly flopped back against sofa cushions with a groan. "I like Judith, but I thought the therapy was almost over. Now I know she's going to insist on more sessions."

"Suggest, not insist," Deanna clarified. "You've gotten through so much already, an adjustment to your perspective should be easy."

"Deanna, I'm sorry I fell apart on you like that. You were trying to help and I -"

"Just make sure you tell Judith it was your fault," Deanna interrupted, reaching out to gently remove the lock of red hair wrapped around a slender finger, "or she won't let us play together anymore."

Laughing, Beverly ran a deliberate hand through her hair before saying, "Sorry about that, too," then laughed again at Jean-Luc's confusion. "Deanna's objection to Rosemary's hair twirling habit was a bit stronger than yours."

She frowned suddenly, belatedly registering the fact that he wasn't supposed to be there. "What are you doing here? Don't get me wrong, I'm very glad you showed up, but I wasn't expecting you."

"I came to tell you that I heard from Admiral Nechayev."

Beverly clutched his hand tightly as an anchor against her sinking heart. "So soon? It can't be good news."

"On the contrary. She was rather enigmatic about it, but she claimed she understands quite well why you need to be here, and how much the crew needs you."

"She did?" Beverly and Deanna chorused in disbelief.

"Recent experience has taught me there are hidden sides to everyone so I didn't press for an explanation." He didn't add that he hadn't wanted to risk the Admiral changing her mind.

"Some of us," Beverly grinned wryly, "are hiding entire people."

Both Jean-Luc and Deanna were glad to witness the rare occurrence of Beverly joking about being Rosemary.

"Counselor, please tell Commander Riker that I won't be back to the Bridge today."

"Yes, sir." Deanna took the subtle hint and rose from her seat. "Anything else?"

Recalling the way his First Officer had smirked throughout the staff meeting, Picard replied, "No, I'll let you decide you whether or not you tell him about Admiral Nechayev's response."

"He doesn't know?" Deanna's dark eyes glowed in mischievous anticipation.

"An official announcement concerning Beverly's resignation will be made tomorrow - once she decides how she wants it handled. If you choose to make Will wait until then to find out that Admiral Nechayev has agreed to let her remain on the Enterprise, that's up to you."

Beverly nodded approvingly. "And Will thought the revenge was going to come from me."

x~x

Deanna spent the day in smug silence as Will pestered her for the details she obviously had. She was so intent on her 'revenge' that she never realized he was being a nuisance only for her benefit.

He knew perfectly well that it was good news because she would never have been able to keep quiet if the answer had been no.

x~x

When the announcement of Beverly's resignation was made, the crew was delighted to learn it didn't mean she was leaving. It went a long way in tempering their regret at losing her as a doctor.

The news spread quickly through Starfleet and beyond, and messages began flooding the subspace channels, causing Beverly to joke that she could have a new career just answering them.

A private gathering was held aboard the ship for the crew, but it was decided that an 'official' retirement party would be held on Bourque Station when the Enterprise docked for repairs in two weeks.

x~x

Admirals to ensigns, ambassadors and civilians, doctors, nurses and lab technicians - all came to honor the woman freely acknowledged as one of the best doctors in all of Starfleet. Over her protests, speeches were made extolling her virtues as a researcher, diagnostician, healer and humanitarian. There were toasts drunk, adventures recounted, and by evening's end, tears shed. It was declared a fitting end to a brilliant career and an apt beginning to a new life.

Tales of the gathering - nearly all of them true - would become part of Starfleet lore for years to come.

x~x

Epilogue

Over the next months, Beverly settled into her new life, including moving yet again - into the Captain's cabin. She followed through on Jean-Luc's suggestion, expanding her theater group so that she sometimes had as many as three plays in various stages of production at any given time. She also taught dance to anyone who cared to learn, but her undisguised favorites were the children who worked so hard and basked in the glow of praise from their adored teacher.

Teaching and directing didn't take up enough of her time, so she set about finding a more personal diversion.

Although she wanted something that she could share with Jean-Luc, archeology left her cold. He could putter around in all the musty, dusty places he wanted, but she preferred to look forward, not back. Eventually, she let an old interest lead her to a new one. Wine making had a loose connection to her previous botanical studies, and she liked the fact that good wine required aging. It gave her a sense of future.

At Beverly's request, Jean-Luc took her to France to see the real Labarre. It did not go unnoticed at the vineyard or in the village that the Picard brothers had one thing in common - a penchant for redheads.

Marie was delighted to finally meet the woman who had figured quite prominently in all of Jean-Luc's letters long before her recent problems. Robert, who could out gruff his brother any day, was equally enchanted as Beverly charmed him with her genuine eagerness to learn everything she could about the winery. As for young Rene, he was as love-struck as any teenager had ever been.

Without the restraints, both real and self-imposed, of being in Starfleet, Beverly flourished under the caring concern of a family she never had as a child and had never allowed herself to have as an adult.

It was the same way once they were back on the ship.

She learned once again to curb most of her off the cuff remarks and abrupt questions, but she was still most likely to be seen roaming the ship barefoot.

Even with her change to civilian status, she found a way to continue to use her medical skills on a limited basis. When large-scale emergencies occurred, she could manage triage, thereby freeing other personnel for more critical duties. She was able to do it because in a crisis, there was no time to think, only to act, to save lives. That she could do and was pleased to be able to help. She continued to experience mild panic attacks when she went to Sickbay for minor things such a physical, but the staff understood and got her in and out as quickly as possible.

Jean-Luc's love quelled the last of her nightmares, and she found a peace she hadn't thought possible.

Their wedding took place within a year.

They named their first daughter Rosemary.

The End

x~x

"We know what we are,
but know not what we may be.

Hamlet
William Shakespeare