Wearily, Jean-Luc Picard left the bridge. Alone in the turbolift, he closed his eyes. His head bowed in the silence, shoulders dropped.
When the lift slowed, he raised his head, squared his shoulders. Hands rested lightly behind his back. He did not consciously assume parade rest, rather, was merely presenting the front appropriate for the Captain of the flagship.
His relief was palpable when the only passenger to join him in the lift was the ship's Chief Medical Officer. Her eyes met his briefly, the dark grey-blue of gathering thunderheads. She looked away, quickly, before the sheen of moisture in her gaze had a chance to coalesce and succumb to gravity.
Neither spoke. The lift continued.
He let his shoulders drop again, without need to posture in her company. Command could be isolating, so oppressively solitary.
She must have showered before leaving sickbay, after the surgery. The smell of some light flower, reminiscent of a long summer night softly teased his awareness.
As he did every time a crew member was lost, Jack pushed his way into the Captain's consciousness. Jean-Luc glanced at Beverly. Her eyes were downcast. Her skin was pale, purple smudges shadowing her eyes. He wondered if Jack invaded her thoughts at times like this. She looked impossibly fragile, as if she might crumble at a harsh word. He knew differently. He knew she fought like a Klingon war goddess for the lives of those she served with.
The lift slowed. He spoke, softly, for the first time. "Have you eaten?"
She didn't look at him, merely nodded no, stepped off with him. He doubted she was hungry, knew he could not eat. By tacit agreement, though, they used meals as excuses to not be alone.
They entered his quarters. Wordlessly, she walked to the viewport. He saw the sigh escape her, shoulders rounding, hands cradling opposite elbows. Bypassing the replicator, he went to the cabinet under the bookshelves. He pulled out a bottle and two glasses. He poured a generous measure of fragrant golden liquid into each.
He placed both glasses on the low table in front of the couch, then approached her. He understood. Sorrow, regret, second-guessing... the solitary burden of responsibility. They shared that, impossibly together in the separation.
Coming up behind her, he rested his hands on her shoulders. She let out another long sigh. She raised one hand to rest on top of his. He leaned his forehead against the back of her hair, inhaling her scent.
"You did your best." He felt the tension strum through her under his palms at his quiet words.
"As did you." Her voice was rough with tears.
He opened his mouth to protest, shut it without a murmur.
The life they chose was not without risk. Each knew it. Neither could change time or physics, wishing did not make it so.
He led her to the couch, fatigue and gravity conspiring to pull at him. She settled next to him, swirling the amber brandy, glittering with tiny gold glints of reflected starlight.
Some days he was just so tired. Sometimes he was not sure he could continue to carry the leaden duty of it... the grief, the choices, the losses.
Jack was there again, nudging into edge of consciousness, spoiling the comfort in shared silence. The silence shared with Jack's widow.
The enormity of responsibility in each death would paralyze him if he let it. The ponderous duty would incapacitate him. Silently he apologized to his late First Officer... he had to deliberately forget him sometimes, had to intentionally push the memory down.
His companion let out another sigh, redolent of loss and turmoil. He raised his arm, wrapping it around her shoulders. She let her head drop onto his shoulder, her precious warmth settling against his side, anchoring him.
Tendrils of need coiled low, somewhere in his soul. He would, of course, deny such need. Just as he would bury the grief and the doubt. Just as he would carry each and every loss with him, daily.
Such was the weight of Command.