The Enterprise was warping through space on the way to its next mission. It happened, every so often, but Jean-Luc Picard was uninterested in where they were going. He sat in his seat on the bridge wondering if he could just give Riker the authority to deal with whatever it was. His mind frequently returned him to the moment the previous evening when he had returned Beverly's kiss. It meant he was there, it meant he cared; it meant he felt the same way.
Beverly watched Dr. Hill walk out of her office with his third irrelevant question of the hour. Sure, she could trust him to run her sickbay. She glanced at her console again, it still showed no response. Nothing new was calling for her attention. There was no distraction past the restructuring of her staff. They would be taking on a new doctor to replace Firda. In fact they were taking on so many new staff at the next rotation that she had spent the morning reviewing service records with Dr. Hill. Her thoughts recurrently turned to the brief kiss of the previous night. It meant he was there, it meant that he cared; it meant that he felt the same way. She was grateful when Alyssa walked into her office with a cup of coffee.
The young nurse placed the cup in front of her superior and took the seat opposite with her own. Beverly raised her eyebrows. "What?" she asked blandly.
"Have you heard back yet?" Alyssa returned simply.
"No," Beverly checked her console again. "Starting to think I'm not going to."
"You will," Alyssa said assuredly. "You will."
The two women drank their coffee in silence. Checking over reports and service records, answering Dr. Hill's random questions about staff rotas. Keeping a continuous eye on the monitor on Beverly's desk.
Jean-Luc made his way to sickbay that evening feeling strangely apprehensive. Beverly hadn't explained at lunch why he had to go and he was fairly sure it wasn't time for his physical yet.
She was waiting in a small private room, setting up a few pieces of equipment on the trolley by the biobed. He entered, noting that Alyssa Ogawa was drifting around the main sickbay doing her usual work with one eye constantly flickering toward the doorway.
"Good evening," he announced his arrival.
"Hi," she sounded rushed.
"We have an idea," she spoke quickly, finishing her preparation of the trolley and the room as she explained. "It's a virus that works on hormonal signals and neurotransmitter activity; so flooding my system with inhibiters and counter-active hormones should confuse it into remittance while a degenerative agent destroys its molecular cohesion. Like a restart, de-fragmentation of a hard-drive."
"Okay," he said slowly, unprepared for the launch that she had taken into the reason why they were there.
"I've been sending a copy of all of our research to Dr. Pulaski," she fixed him with a peculiar look. She knew how much he respected Katherine as a physician and researcher; she needed him to realise that she knew. "Remember I mentioned the genesis project? Well, after the virus has been eliminated, we rejuvenate the brain's functions: jump-start them to where they were before."
"This sounds all rather far-fetched," he said carefully. He couldn't raise their hopes. He couldn't point out the insane danger that she proposed.
"Katherine agrees it's our best shot," Beverly needed him to trust her now. She couldn't tell him that it was their best chance because that sounded like their last chance.
"Okay," he sounded worried, but he had learned to trust Katherine Pulaski. The straight-talking doctor had proved herself to him over her tour of duty on the Enterprise. He needed to believe now that Beverly had exhausted every avenue. He knew that the proud red-head didn't ask for help. Suddenly the seriousness of the situation was even more real than it had been before. Best shot meant best chance. "Why am I here?"
"I need you to be here," she said cryptically with the subtle tones of a newly budding flower, shyly peeking its petals into the sunlight for the first time.
"Because, Jean-Luc, as much as I don't know what this thing is, I also don't know if what I'm about to use will eradicate it or accelerate it," she sat on the biobed, like any other patient waiting to be seen.
"You mean, you could die?" he asked, comprehending the enormity of trust that was being placed in the trail of the antidote and seeing not any other patient waiting for a diagnosis or treatment, but the woman he adored sitting waiting for his comprehension and acceptance.
"Exactly," she took up a padd and began to work on something on the screen.
"So what do you need me to do? How will I know when to intervene?" his brain raced through scenarios and actions faster than any speed he had ever travelled through space.
"Jean-Luc," she said sadly. "If this doesn't work, there won't be anything you can do. Except to report that the attempt was unsuccessful. I need you to be here," she hesitated slightly as if doubting her words. "I need you to be here purely selfishly, because I don't really fancy dying alone."
His voice caught in his throat as she calmly turned away and finished her notes leaving him in a state of disequilibrium that he didn't know how to dispel.
"Why not one of…" he didn't want to watch her die. But despite where his sentence began to lead, he didn't want her to die alone, he could never want that.
"One of the other doctors?" she asked, pausing in her typing to smile wryly and guess at his unfinished question. "I think it's come up before, I'm not a great patient. If you don't want to stay, you don't have to. It was unfair of me to ask."
"I want to stay," he said immediately. Her exit opportunity couldn't fool him, it wasn't an unfair question. He was her best friend and she his. The statement did not take away from the promise they had sealed with his kiss at the gala. He would be with her, however fair fate decided to be. He explained himself as best he could. "But I want this to work."
"I can't promise you that. But I want it too."
The earnest urgency in her voice compelled him to her side, he took hold of the hand that held the stylus and stilled it. She continued to stare at the screen before blinking and sighing. Eventually she met his eye, shocked to see the glaze that resided there.
"Hey," she choked, covering his hand with hers. "It will be ok."
He nodded. "Talk me through it."
It was the inevitable precipice that neither wanted to reach. If it worked; the closeness that they had created would end. If it didn't work; it would end anyway.
They sat silently beside each other on the bed. Waiting for the courage to come, to lead them to a place where they might not return.
"Beverly…" she had broken the silence with a sniff.
"I guess I never thought about dying before," she explained. She was ashamed that emotion had intervened at the last moment. "I never thought about how it would feel. I mean, obviously in this job, the aspects of it have crossed my mind. I've watched other people die. Strangers, friends… I've seen the effects on their families and friends. When Wes was younger, I used to think about what would happen to him. He would have to go to Nana's. She'd have to bring up another child without their parents. When we came here, on the Enterprise, I thought maybe he could stay here, make a life for himself. When you allowed him to stay without me that year, I was grateful. He had a home if I had to go. Now, he's a grown man with his own life." He would hurt, but he would be ok. It's ok, Mom. "He will be ok."
All he had to do was listen. He couldn't take the time to acknowledge that she was justifying the risk she was taking; not taking this chance would only mean it would be longer and harder. He mustn't hear the voice in his head analysing the situation as it might Lear's last speech. He simply had to listen, to cherish every rise and fall in her voice as if it was the most precious china in his Mama's cabinet.
"I've got no-one to leave behind now. No one that needs my care. I've had a wonderful son, a great career and a great life. I was lucky enough to feel all the love that anyone can hope for. I had Jack, if only for a short time, I felt the love of a husband and felt part of something greater than myself. If I die now, at least I know that I did a lot of things, had a lot of things that some people just don't get the chance to know. I guess I'm saying that I'm ready."
Choked, he nodded as she picked the spray up from the stand and brought it to her arm, she curled her legs up beside her; she was ready. Her eyes met his and in that brief moment communicated to him something that he could not place, but it brought him a strange comfort. She released the spray and the cocktail of drugs and radiation flew into her body. She gasped. One sharp intake of breath.
Her eyes closed and she fell against him. Her body shuddered and stopped. She lay heavy in his arms.
"At least you won't have to watch over me tonight," she teased as they reached her quarters.
"You gave us quite a fright," he had only just recovered, sure that she had left him in that moment, that he would never see her eyes again.
She hesitated. "Come in anyway?"
There was a want in her tone, an invitation that their relationship did not have to end with him taking care of her just when she was ill. Perhaps a message that she needed him more of the time. He faltered. Unsure whether he could accept that invitation, read that message, answer the want that echoed in him as strongly as a Klingon's honour guided him. He swallowed and nodded.
She danced into her quarters and left him in the living area while she changed.
Her voice called to him from the bedroom, "Ready, Jean-Luc?"
He thought the sound was his thoughts.
"Are you ready, Jean-Luc?"
He knew that intonation, that taunt, that …
"Q," he exhaled.
"Well done, mon capitaine, I was beginning to think I had lost you entirely in this fantasy," Q appeared nonchalantly on the sofa beside him.
"Where am I? Where's Beverly?" Q's appearance constantly filled him with exasperation but this time capped them all, he was infuriated with the omnipotent being's presence.
"Right where you left you. And her. In sickbay, wondering if the untested and frankly dangerous concoction she is about to inject into her system will save her."
"Why this then?" he couldn't even qualify his anger, he was that mad at Q's calm countenance.
"I don't know. I like you Jean-Luc. I wanted to give you a chance to, I don't know, explore that side of you that you keep so hidden. That side that is so intriguing in humans. Some let it show so much, you keep such a sordid affair with your emotions. It makes you quite enviable I understand, but so ugly too."
"So you give me time. In a fantasy. You said fantasy, does that mean that she will die?" he understood his rage now. If Q was simply showing him the alternative of an inescapable conclusion, an alternative that would never happen… he wondered how hard it would be to kill an immortal being.
"I don't know, Jean-Luc. Neither do either of you. The question is, are you ready?"
"Ready," Picard repeated softly, hearing Q's question as if for the first time. "Am I ready? To watch her die. To let her die. You ask me if I am ready to see her die. Why?"
"My dear captain, I simply ask the question."
"Am I ready to let her die without telling her. Can I let her die without telling her that she still has someone who cares for her, who loves her. I can't tell her that. She was so content." Q offered no further guidance, Jean-Luc allowed his thoughts to wander; to enter the truth that he had been holding back from himself and from her. "But am I ready to live without her, knowing that I never told her?" It would be honouring Jack's memory, which he had always aimed to do. He had never let his own heart tear apart what she had with Jack. He could not do that to her. But Q was right, it would hurt him to go on without her. He could imagine telling her empty body that he loved her. He could imagine telling the space that swallowed her coffin that he had loved her for all the time he had known her. That those feelings had never and would never go away. He could carry that guilt along with the guilt he held over Jack, Tasha and everyone else who had died under his command.
"Jean-Luc, are you ready?" her voice echoed through his mind again, calling from the room that he could not enter.
"Jean-Luc, are you ready?" Q faded from view, taking the surround into darkness as he heard Picard's hoarse reply.
"…I'm ready." Beverly was in front of him again, curling her feet onto the biobed, reaching for the hypospray on the stand. Suddenly, his resolve gave way.
She paused, her eyes fixed upon him with the gaze he remembered.
"Jean-Luc, don't," she murmured sweetly.
"I want this to work," he didn't know how he was going to tell her, starting neutrally seemed his best option, buy some time before he revealed the secret he had been guarding for so many years.
"Don't say it," her eyes burned into him, her hand was on his thigh, her words mixing in his head to give two meanings.
"I feel the same way," she promised him in a melody that strung her words together and wove them around his heart in a pattern so strong that nothing would ever break their intention to tell him what he thought he wanted to hear, what she wanted him to hear. There were tears in her eyes that might never fall, a secret in her voice that he might never hear. "But it'll be easier if we don't say it out loud. I know," she said sadly, softly, her thoughts in perfect harmony with his own. "I feel the same way."
The repetition of her vow masked the sound of the spray being pushed against her skin, she gasped; one sharp intake of breath, falling against him, her body shuddering, then stopping as he stroked her cheek and a tear fell from his eye.
The rush of sensations that took her as she inhaled deeply and opened her eyes confused, delighted and enraptured her. She saw his arm wrapped around her, his hand resting on her ribcage, she felt his fingers with life pulsing through them as it sat unmoving on her shoulder, she looked up.
One slender hand rose and found his cheek, pale fingers traced the path of the tear that had fallen from the gallant captain's eye. She waited until she had his attention, his gaze confused, alarmed, exhilarated, met hers open and full of everything she needed to say.
"I feel the same way," she murmured softly. "I always have."
He nodded, together, their eyes closing together. Alyssa passed the doorway. It was as if for that moment, she was sleeping in his arms.
Because Fate blesses us all with Time
Hello, so I was going to just post and run with this last part, but I couldn't without one last huge THANK-YOU to everyone who has been reading!
Hope you have enjoyed Fateful Blessings.