(Author's Ramble: Just an epilogue, part of a series I'm doing of missing moments and epilogues from episodes, which stay within canon. It is, actually, more challenging to mark the little signs of progress/developing relationship, without letting it develop as it should have.

Saw Starship Mine for the first time. Not P/C per se, but lots of P & C separately. And a couple of totally yummy tiny little Riker/Troi moments-just touches and glances that inspired this. I also got to thinking about the *next* episode, which I have refused to admit exists until now. But, I think I discovered WHY(in my own little universe) he thinks he falls for her. Foreshadowing is here.)

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Friendship Mine, (epilogue Starship Mine)

It was only after Deanna and Will began to take their leave, still chuckling at Worf's expense, that he noticed the lines of strain on her face. She had soft lavender smudges underneath her eyes. As she looked down at her tricorder, he noted she was pale beneath her freckles.

His First Officer and his Councilor left together. They walked closely, rubbing at elbows and hips. As they neared the lift, Will raised a hand to Deanna's back. She tilted her head, resting it on his shoulder.

Beverly looked up, caught the Captain's raised eyebrow as he watched the pair. She glanced toward them, seeing the renewed intimacy which had started on the planet. Will had sheltered Deanna with his body several times. She had drawn comfort from his strength. Deanna had been horrified when Will was laid out flat by their kidnappers.

A delicate shudder ran down her spine. So close... all of them...

She made a production out of snapping the tricorder shut, hoping he did not see her delayed reaction. "No radiation. I don't know how, but you got very, very lucky Jean-Luc Picard."

He had noticed. He let his saddle rest on his thigh, grasping it only in his right hand. His left raised to her arm, lightly tethering her when he knew she was going to spin away from him; was going to try to hide from him.

"Hey." His voice was soft. He waited, patiently, for her to look up and meet his gaze. Her eyes were cloudy, the grey-blue of thunderheads. "Geordi is in good hands, the rest of the crew is still planetside... If you join me for supper, we may actually be able to enjoy it without interruption."

"No... I... " She was at a loss for an excuse. She looked away, down at the closed tricorder in her hands, desperately at the turbolift doors.

At times, his patience was infinite. His thumb traced an idle pattern on her arm. Even with just one hand on her, he held her captive. She relented, returning her eyes to his. Deep mossy green echoed the colour of the shirt he was wearing. The shirt which was tucked in to smokey grey breeches which left little to the imagination. Coherent thought shattered.

"Please?" His soft entreaty held more power over her than an executive order.

She nodded her assent, not trusting her voice. He slipped off the biobed, wedging the saddle against his hip. He let his hand slide down her arm, then drift to the small of her back.

The silence in the turbolift was comfortable. The smell of expensive leather and glycerine soap filled the small space. He shifted the weight of the saddle, carrying it over both arms. Beverly found herself staring at it, shiny with age and care and use. She knew how the rich leather would feel, a paradox of butter softness and slick, shiny hardness. She always did have a fondness for fine leather. Her eyes drifted down to the spit-shined tall black riding boots he wore. The outfit would haunt her dreams for a long time.

It was not until the Captain cleared his throat that she realized the lift had stopped and the doors were open. Their deck.

"Oh. Sorry," she mumbled, feeling a flush rising underneath her collar. She looked down again, letting her hair swing forward, hoping to hide her wayward thoughts from him.

Thankfully, he seemed to be as tired and distracted as she was. "Jean-Luc, you really don't have to make dinner, it's been a long day..."

He interrupted her before she could list the litany of reasons why they should not have supper. "Beverly, please. Take a shower, change into something comfortable, and come to my quarters."

It was only when she stopped to look at him with an impish smile and a raised eyebrow he realized what he said. "Really, Jean-Luc, I had no idea."

Mirth sparkled in her eyes-worth the embarrassment. He grinned back at her, then laughed at himself. "You have uncovered my salacious plot to feed you, Doctor." They stopped in front of his door. "You will return?" He was all soft seriousness now.

"Yes." There was a wistfulness in her face for a moment, but then she turned to her quarters. "A half-hour?" she asked, over her shoulder.

"Perfect," he answered as his doors hissed open.

He returned the saddle to the hand-finished wood and brass rack tucked into the corner behind his desk. He brushed a hand over it, grateful it had been recovered; more grateful that his return for it had uncovered the plot to steal the trilithium. The cost in lives of Kelsey's greed was high.

With a weary sigh he toed out the boot jack from under the saddle stand and pulled off his riding boots. Rare and precious cedar boot trees went into the foot and shaft to keep the boots from breaking down and folding at the ankle. He left them standing in front of the saddle rack, he would have to clean and buff them after the abuse of crawling around Jefferies tubes. Mud and muck were one thing, the fine scratches the metal grating had left were entirely another.

Pulling his shirt off over his head, he went to the shower. Breeches followed to the laundry bin. He turned the shower to water, adjusting the temperature and pulse. Too many lives were lost today, and he was not blameless. He tried to let the water pound the tension out of his shoulders.

Finally he exited the shower and dressed in a loose black t-shirt and dark grey, soft, casual trousers. None but the senior staff were back aboard, he would take advantage of one of the few times he knew he would not be called to duty. He left his feet bare.

He was just bringing the covered dishes of food to the table when the announcer chirped. "Come," he called, lighting the pair of candles in the center of the table.

He smelled her before he looked up. He could tell before he saw her that she had left her hair long and damp. The scent of her hair always reminded him of fresh spring grass and sunshine. His educated nose could pick out many floral, fruit and wood scents from a lifetime of being the Vintner's son, but he could never quite identify her perfume or shampoo; just that it was warm and bright and at the same time cool, mysterious and soothing.

She wore one of what he thought of as her "theatre" sweaters: a loose neck draped low in front and lower in back, barely staying on the edges of her shoulders. He knew before too long it would disobediently slip off one side or the other. She had, it seemed, one in every jewel tone there was. Tonight though, it was darkest charcoal, with just hints of iridescent blue and green threads. Leggings skimmed her calves, and he smiled at her bare feet.

"Perfect timing." He held her chair for her. The shower had put some colour into her cheeks, but the circles under her eyes remained, looking almost bruised. Before sitting, he poured them both generous glasses of wine.

"Mmm." She sniffed the glass appreciatively. "What is the occasion for raiding the Picards?"

He watched as she closed her eyes, savoured the first sip, rolling it around on her tongue before swallowing it. "Let's just say I'm celebrating the ingeniousness of my crew." A wince crossed her features before she opened her eyes.

When she looked at him, she knew he had seen some sort of reaction from her. She glanced away from his penetrating gaze, and began to serve the food.

He waited, employing his prodigious patience again. She would get to it in her own time. The silence between them was not uncomfortable. They were both hungry and tired. They were both grateful to be together, and just *being* together was enough.

Her hair was drying in soft disarray. It was hair born for candlelight and sunsets. Copper fire glinted when she moved. He found his thoughts drifting for the second time today in a direction he had firmly commanded himself to not let them drift.

The first time they had strayed was when he was crouched up in the bulkhead of his ship, watching his death approaching. His whole life did not flash before him, only his regrets. And he found one of his biggest regrets was Beverly.

But it was impossible. For so many reasons, it was impossible; Starfleet, duty... Jack. He loved her. He loved her beyond what he could even describe, or admit. But even if Jack's ghost wasn't between them, Starfleet was. He could, and would, continue to cherish the friendship which had grown between them. He would value her company and advice. He would cherish her generosity. But that is where it must end.

His sigh was full of grief and sorrow. He had not wanted to die alone.

"I"m sorry those people died, Jean-Luc. I know you did what you could." She had misinterpreted his melancholy. But, then again, she was right. Part of his mood wasthe weight of the needless losses.

She was pushing her food around on her plate. He refilled both of their wine glasses, generously. She gave up her attempt at finishing, and sat back in her chair with the glass.

"Tell me what happened down there, Beverly." His voice was soft, coaxing.

She shook her head and shrugged her shoulders, staring into the flickering candlelight reflected in the deep red wine. "Will covered it all... " She shrugged again, the sweater succumbing to gravity and sliding off a creamy shoulder.

Jean-Luc stood, gently taking her wine glass from her. She automatically stood and followed him to the couch. He placed their glasses alongside the almost-empty bottle on the low table in front of it, and sat. She sat next to him, stiffly at first. He handed her back her wine, then stretched out his arm behind her on the couch.

With a sigh that echoed his earlier one, she relaxed against his shoulder. This was what she had longed for since she watched Deanna and Will on the planet. Something inside her had begun to ache when she watched Will protectively tuck Dea behind his shoulder, when Dea hung onto his arm and rested her head against him.

It was a physical pain, just below her diaphragm.

Her Doctor's mind had gone through the possibilities: too central to be gall bladder, too high to be appendix, too low to be cardiac... stomach pain, perhaps, but it wasn't *that* kind of pain. It was more like a radiating grief really...

It had stayed with her, though dulled, until she first saw Jean-Luc. Then it had twisted for a moment, threatening to steal her breath. It settled, to a blunt sort of nuisance. Until now.

The pain dissapated and she finally felt peace seeping in.

"You know, I'm well versed in Critical Incident debriefing. I *know* the normal, healthy reactions to high stress situations... " She broke off, shaking her head, uncharacteristically at a loss for words.

"Physician heal thyself?" His hand had idly found it's way to her hair. His feather soft touch soothing.

Another sigh escaped her. Normal, physiological reaction. She knew it, recognized it, could do nothing to prevent it. "Exactly." She sipped the excellent wine, and curled her bare feet under her on the couch, moving a little more securely against him.

"It's been an... intense... few months. We haven't had a break since well before the Cardassian... mission."

The ache bloomed again, deep beneath her sternum. Her free left hand found it's way to rest on his chest. "And it's just three weeks since you 'died' on me.' A silent tear escaped down her cheek, she concentrated on the steady, reassuring beat of his heart under her hand.

He placed his right hand over her left, trapping it in warmth. "You've had a rough go of it, haven't you."

An unladylike snort of a chuckle escaped her. "Me? You're the one I had to... put back together." Her voice broke with the last, almost a sob, and she turned her head against him, trying to hide.

He leaned forward, took her wineglass from her and placed it back on the table. When he sat back, he gathered her to him, both arms wrapping around her.

"I'm sorry." She was fighting the tears.

For his part, he just needed to hold her. To reassure himself that she was here. "Don't be sorry. I happen to need someone to hold on to me right now." His own voice was rough.

"That I can do, Captain."