A.N.: What if Q had not restored Jean-Luc to his Enterprise at the end of the episode of TAPESTRY? What if Captain Picard in the A/U still remained Lieutenant Picard. How would Starfleet's top captain take to life in the lower decks? Could he cope? And survive?

A long time ago when fandom waited with baited breath for printed copies of fan fic stories in something quaintly known as 'fanzines', I wrote this story and it was published in one of the best of TNG fanzines called INVOLUTION. Issue number 11 of 12 issues full of wonderful P/C stories and novellas. Since ORION PRESS has removed TNG stories from its website, I've slightly edited and retyped this story for your perusal. It was originally written in 1997.

This story is not part of the TNG A/U universe that I created in the two novels that I've posted on , THE BEST LAID PLANS and THE SKY'S THE LIMIT. This story, though adult, is not graphic, hence the K+ rating rather than the M rating that I gave to my novels.

This story is also not part of the A/U novel and sequels, ATTACHED MEANT and DE-TACHED, LIFE WITH BEVERLY.

As always, I would really appreciate any comments.

STAR TREK is Paramount's property, but fandom's playground.


=/\= ='/\'= =/\=

She just knew that he was different.

She felt it.

She sensed it.

Commander Deanna Troi mentally catalogued every 'feelings' cliché known to a Betazoid as she studied the man abstractedly drinking a cup of tea in the corner of Ten Forward that was the farthest from her chair. And midst this vague sense of divergence that she felt, she also perceived his cloaked attitude of awareness of her scrutiny. This officer - this junior lieutenant from Astrophysics - somehow knew her. He knew not just the officer. It went beyond that. He sometimes sent an occasional side glance in her direction laden with a comfortable familiarity that was inexplicable.

She did not know him. How could she? For her only contacts with Lieutenant Jean-Luc Picard had been as the senior shipboard counselor who had interviewed him when he had first been assigned to the Enterprise, all of their subsequent yearly check-ups and a single conversation in Ten-Forward a few days ago. She had never gotten to know this man with the intimacy that she accorded to her close friends. Yet somehow, whenever she was now around him, she sensed from him an inborn belief that he did know her personally. Too well.

And that he regretted revealing this knowledge to her. He tried to hide it. To block what he was feeling. And most of the time, he succeeded. It was only once in a while with an odd word or an unexpected gesture, that his mask would slip. And then, for a brief second, she would feel something she could only describe as inappropriate from him. Toward herself. And toward the Enterprise.

Unfortunately, in spite of that fact that she knew how valid her own feelings were, she had no empirical evidence to prove that Lieutenant Jean-Luc Picard, J.G., was not exactly the same man who had signed aboard the Enterprise. She would find it difficult to come up with specific Starfleet acceptable psycho-phrases to describe her impressions of this man. And as for telling Captain Halloway, she had learned a long time ago that he had little time for Betazoid 'drivel'.

Only one unquestionable conviction formed whenever she tried to subtly probe Picard. Confidence. Sheer self-confidence. With command level arrogance.

The old Lieutenant Picard J.G., had never known this sense of self-assuredness. That was the chief difference. And she found this knowledge disturbing.


Who was he? Or, as she considered a less agreeable possibility - what was he?

=/\= ='/\'= =/\=

Ensign Lefler went to her engineering duty station with an energetic bounce to her step, and leaned over a panel to face the officer who was seated opposite to her position. She offered him a friendly grin.

"Are you coming?"

Lieutenant Picard looked up form his station and proffered a polite, albeit preoccupied smile in response. "Coming to what, Ensign?"

She stared at him in mock dismay, the sparkle in her eye belying her censorious words. "Again? Must you be so formal, Lieutenant? After all, we've been working together for more than a year now. My name is Robin and I know that you know it. I've mentioned using my first name to you before, you know."

Jean-Luc sighed. He had learned a great deal about the nature of this young lady's forceful personality during the short time he had been working with her. The last five days and nights of his life had become a descent into captainly hell, thanks to Q. But he could ascribe none of the disaster of his fall into lowly lieutenanthood to the high-spirited Ensign Robin Lefler.

"Robin." He said it almost sparingly, as if he were unused to friendly chatting.

"I knew you could say it, Jean-Luc!"

He sighed again, knowing that he would have to get used to the idea of various people of differing rank referring to him by his first name. He no longer had the shield of his captaincy to hide behind. And somehow, he had to continue on with his life. Even if it was as a lowly lieutenant. Or until the day came when he could get his itchy hands around Q's miserable neck and end this wretched charade one way or another.

"Robin. What kind of a party?"

She stared at him. "Well, what do you know? It's true. I should have made a bet. You never do read the mail on your bulletin board."

"Mail?" Picard didn't understand. Even if he now was a humble lieutenant, the ingrained habits of being a Starfleet officer had not changed. He still dutifully checked his terminal at the proper times daily, to deal with whatever work or business had been directed to his quarters. And there had not been one message from this ensign.

She sighed. Then grinned an even more naughty smile. "Jean-Luc, you are hopeless." She picked up his personal padd and shoved it into his hand. "You know. Your mail box. This bulletin board. Where all of us lowlies post untraceable messages, betting pool results, naughty limericks, and anonymous observations about Commander Argyle's latest toupee. You know - mail!"

"Mail." He considered her attitude. "Or, do you really mean defamatory gossip?"

She laughed. "I knew you had a sense of humor, Jean-Luc. I just wished that you showed it more often. You know, you are quite good-looking when you smile. And you have never been pretentious about your hairline. I like a lack of self-importance in a man."

"Young lady…"

She laughed again. "I know. I'll stop teasing you and shut up. Now, go on." She tapped a key on his padd. "Read it."

After a minute, he put down his padd. "Wesley is coming back to the ship?"

"Yup. And I know that he used to count you amongst his few friends." Suddenly, there was a quicksilver shift to her attitude. She became serious. "Please come. He really needs you."

He was surprised by the change in her disposition. "Of course, Ensign." He caught her look as he amended himself. "Robin." When she exhaled a nervous sigh of relief, he could not contain his curiosity. "But, tell me one thing."


"Why? What makes you think that I would not wish to welcome home Wesley Crusher?"

"And his mother."

"And his mother…" Jean-Luc whispered as he realized that in his almost despairing personal record searches of his own altered past, he had yet to unveil the events that had happened to certain others that he valued in his life.

"You don't know?"

Jean-Luc shook his head.

She clasped his hand and pulled him into the entrance hatch of a Jeffries tube, carefully checking to make sure that no one could overhear them. "Captain Halloway couldn't deny Dr. Crusher permission to return with her son."

Jean-Luc wouldn't argue with that.

She continued. "But the captain has made it perfectly clear that he would not approve of any of his officers becoming involved, consorting, speaking with, smiling at, breaking bread, making love, or whatever - with Wesley." She could see the lack of comprehension in his nice hazel eyes. "You really don't understand?" she whispered, not believing that even this man could be that oblivious to ongoing shipboard gossip.

"No. Of course not." Picard considered his words. "I know that Wesley can be rather irritating, intrusive; if not naïve on occasion. But censorious behavior from Captain Halloway? What could Wesley have done? Surely what happened at the Academy…" Picard abruptly stopped speaking when he realized that maybe the incident with the Nova Squadron might not have happened yet.

"Who cares about what the boy genius did in the five semesters that it took for him to graduate?"

"Graduate?" he whispered to himself, surprised that this statement of Wesley's life was different from Picard's version.

She grabbed his arm. "I'm talking about Locutus!"

Picard froze. That word could still strike terror into the recesses of his soul. "Locutus?"

"Yes. When the Borg kidnapped Wesley from the bridge…" She stopped talking as she watched Picard dramatically pale. Suddenly she wondered if the rumors that had been circulating about Picard's strange behavior and possible illness a couple of days ago, might actually be true. "Maybe we should get you over to Sickbay, and have Dr. Pulaski take a poke at you. You don't look so good."

"Kate Pulaski?" He instinctively shuddered, considering horror upon horror. "No. No. I'll be fine."

"You promise?"

"Yes, Ens…Robin." He suddenly smiled, actually pleased with her obvious concern. He was unaccustomed to such overt behavior from the people that he still instinctively thought of as his crew. But he found that now that he was not encumbered with the onerous weight of command, he might actually come to like it.

"Well, go back to your quarters and get some rest. I'll cover for you until the duty shift ends. Yours is almost over, anyway. And I'd be willing to bet anything that you came in early. You always do. As near as I can tell the only thing that you ever do is work, read, and moon after a certain red-haired physician."

"What?" He was truly jolted by her words, as he considered the possibility that the man he never was might not have been totally forthcoming in his personal logs about all things concerning Beverly Crusher.

"Oh, don't worry, Jean-Luc. I haven't apprised anyone about what I know. I don't gossip. You know my Law Number Forty-Two…" She could see that he didn't. "…every once in a while, give the sucker an even break."

"What?" He could not recall the last time that anyone had referred to him as a 'sucker'.

"Sometimes, I even surprise myself. But since you are Wesley's friend…"

"In other words, you are not a gossip?" He was beginning to regain some of his composure.

"Gossip is mischievous, light and easy to raise, but grievous to bear and hard to get rid of…"

"Good lord, that's Hesiod!"

"Bet you never knew that I have read the Greek Classics." She could see that she had confounded him one more time. She patted his chest with friendly concern. "I knew that you were the only one on board this ship besides Commander Data who'd recognize that quote. Now, go take yourself off before Argyle finds some Heisenberg compensators for you to re-regulate during your off-duty hours."

He turned to go, but paused and stared at her. He considered her kindness. "Thank you, Ensign."

With that he left, instantly forgetting her as his thoughts were revolving with all of the possibilities that she had unwittingly raised about his unknown private life. And his lack of basic information about his unknown past.

There were times when Q's little jest could give him a monumental headache. Unfortunately, Picard had the feeling that this might be the joke where his much-altered position in life was the punch line. And there wasn't a potent enough pain killer in sight.

Hours later he wearily rubbed his tired eyes as he signed off from his terminal. He had read all of the reports about Locutus of Borg that he could access. His guilt was unshakable as he considered the idea that he was responsible for what had happened to Wesley Crusher.

"It should have been me."

His voice bounced off the muted grey walls of his quarters, echoing about the two small rooms and their contents that a lieutenant, j.g. could claim as his own. He still possessed some of the things from his past such as the sextant from the Red Jack, quite a few of his rare books, his Ventarian thimble, a quartz shard. a few bottles of wine from the Picard vineyards, and his lionfish, Livingston. If he had been in a better mood, Jean-Luc might have been amused that Q had remembered to save his pet lionfish.

Yet, not for the first time, he cursed the thought that he had no portals to see his treasured stars. Inside lower deck quarters meant denying him the stars, which was almost the cruelest result of Q's actions. Though he recognized that if Q had been totally ruthless, Q would have demoted him to an ensign's rank, thereby forcing him to share his quarters with roommates. At least he'd been spared that torment. Or else Q wanted to do his torturing without an audience.

Picard was tired. Mind-numbingly tired. He automatically ordered tea and tomato Florentine soup from his replicator as he tried to objectively consider his situation. His overview of recent history revealed that Q's promise had been kept. History, at least the important parts, had not been significantly changed.

Jack Crusher had indeed died in an accident in 2354. The Stargazer had been lost in sector 21503. Ardra was in a Ventaxian prison. Ro Laren had still thwarted Admiral Kennelly's betrayal of Orta and the Bajoran freedom fighters. And Edward Jellico had assumed temporary command of the Enterprise outwitting the Cardassians at Minor Korva.

But other people had played different, major roles to bring the proper timeline about. Picard had found himself barely mentioned in the footnotes to some of these reports.

Picard had been friends with Jack Crusher. But it was Captain Cortan Zweller who had lost the Stargazer to DaiMon Bok's son and then been brainwashed by the Ferengi. Will Riker was the officer who had taken the zip out of Ardra's zapping. Data was the officer who had believed Ro Laren's tale of covert plotting. And it was Worf who had been forced to see five lights. Most events had happened as they should, though not always in the same time context. And some of the players involved were not as Picard remembered.

He also discovered that certain memorable events had never even happened. Or, at least, they had yet to happen. The Nova Squadron never had tried to do the Kolvoord Starburst Maneuver, though Joshua Albert had died in a training accident that was blamed on Cadet Nicholas Locarno.

Things sort of balanced out.

But there were certain parts of his personal history that had gaps.

=/\= ='/\'= =/\=

"Data?" Counselor Troi wrapped her arm around the android's elbow and tugged him aside, away from the passersby in the corridor. "Could I speak with you in private for a moment?"

Data studied the Betazoid's upturned face, marking the obvious signs of concern, automatically making note of her blood pressure and respiration. He logically concluded that the lady was worried about something.

"Of course, Counselor." Data nodded down the corridor. "Shall we go to my quarters?" Assuming that she would agree, he guided her toward his door, casually stating, "It is time for me to feed Spot. Would you mind continuing our consultation while I prepare my cat's supplement?"

She lightly laughed, trying to match the rhythm of her short strides to the pace of his much longer ones. "Of course not, Data." Minutes later, she was sitting by a crystal curio table watching Data attempt to coax Spot to her dinner. "She's not hungry, Data."

Data looked over from his position, kneeling on all fours next to the cat on the floor, as he kept adjusting the food bowl back and forth, under Spot's snooty nose. "I have found that it I try to tempt Spot…"

Deanna laughed again. "Data, she thinks that you are playing a game with her. And she is the one in charge of the rules." Deanna bent forward and wiggled her fingers in Spot's direction. The cat immediately ignored Data and went over to have that special placed behind her left ear scratched with Deanna's sharp fingernails. Purring with satisfaction, Spot didn't even try to move as Data stood, and then crouched down next to Deanna's feet.

Data considered the situation. "Can you sense Spot's feelings?"

Since the cat's purring was audible, Deanna smiled. "You do not need to be a Betazoid in order to know that Spot is quite content at the moment."

"Yes, her decibel level indicates a great…"

Deanna interrupted him. "Data."

"Yes, Counselor?"

"Spot would be happier if you were the one who was scratching behind her ears. After all, you are the one that she owns."

"Spot is my cat, Counselor. It is not the other way around."

"Spot thinks otherwise, Data." She laughed again, but then her expression changed, becoming more pensive.

Data was quick to notice the change in the lady. "What did you wish to ask of me, Counselor?"

"What do you know about Lieutenant Picard?"

Data reviewed all of his internal information before responding. "He is a satisfactory, efficient officer."

"Data, have you noticed anything different about the man lately? I mean since the incident when he appeared disoriented?"

Data considered her words. "His two reports since that incident have been more accurate and fully detailed. Is that what you mean?"

"No, not exactly. Has there been anything unusual, out of the ordinary, about those reports? About him?"

"His report on the theoretical possible mass of a stable cold star that might be affecting the antilepton interference of the Bajoran wormhole showed a comprehension of the subject matter beyond what I account to be the standard of his usual work. Is that what you mean?"

"Not precisely."

"Why are you questioning me about Lieutenant Picard? Is there a problem? Is he ill? He was supposed to go to Sickbay. Did he?"

"Yes, he did. I checked. But no one attended to him when he was there."

Data thought over the fact that Counselor Troi would not have started this discussion without a purpose in mind. "Do you believe Lieutenant Picard to be ill? Is there some way that I may assist you and Lieutenant Picard?"

She took a quick breath. "The truth is that I do no know. I am just worried about him. He's changed and I don't know why."

"Counselor, I have observed that all Humans change over the passage of time."

"Yes, Data. That is true enough. We all change, even you." She chose her words carefully. "But, Lieutenant Picard's changes are odd. Curious. Is there any way that you can discreetly keep an eye on him? I do not want my concerns to become public knowledge. Or to influence his career in any way - especially if I am in error."

"Is this an example of humanoid feminine intuition?" Data was fascinated by this possibility.

"Oh, Data…" She was aware of his reasons for being interested in her situation. But for a second she found herself distracted, picking off white cat hairs that were stubbornly sticking to only the black parts of her uniform.

"You'll help me? On an unofficial basis?"

"Of course, Counselor." He paused for a moment before he added, "That is what friends are for, are they not?"

=/\= ='/\'= =/\=

"I was wondering when you were going to get around to seeing me…"

Picard leaned against the bar in Ten Forward as he watched Guinan polish an already spotless brandy glass with an old-fashioned barkeep's cotton cloth. He reached over and picked up a folded white cloth and chose another glass, starting to wipe the rim.

"I've already done that one, "Guinan snapped.

Picard put the glass back down, and simply stared at her. She could try any patient man's soul.


She reached beneath the bar and pulled out a decanter, sensing a need to placate her friend. "My special stock." She poured some of the deep cherry amber liquid into a snifter and handed it to him. "You remember my special stock, don't you, Jean-Luc?"

"Yes, I do remember this brandy though my memory has not been too reliable as of late." He took the snifter and sipped the ruby liquid within, rather slowly and with appreciation.

"Why's that?"


He watched as she took a small drink from her glass, her vermilion headdress slowly rippling about her neck in response to her movements.

"What happened to your memory, Jean-Luc? You still remember certain kindnesses that we once shared, don't you?"

"Of course."

"So, what's wrong?"

She glanced about the empty Ten Forward as if she were automatically checking it for eavesdroppers.

"Tell me. No one else is here."

She jerked her head over to the glowing indirect lighting behind that bar that looked as if it were part of the frame to the bar's mural. "The light's path was unbroken. No one is spying on us at the moment."

Picard considered her words as well as her actions before he spoke. He had never noticed her having to take such precautions before when the 1701-D had been 'his' Enterprise.

"Have you ever heard of the 'Continuum'?"

Guinan gulped down all of her Myrmidon brandy.

"So that's it. That's why you've been different." She refilled her snifter up to the brim. "You know the rules. I cannot interfere."

"Even if I need help?"

"The Continuum has its own rules." She arched a hairless eyebrow even as she poured more of the precious liquor into his snifter. "And you should already know that."

He hid his sense of frustration as he took a long draught of the brandy. Then he took a deep breath. "About Q…"

She took her time in answering him. And then it was too late.

"Lieutenant Picard, report to Science Conference Room Three," was heard from his comm badge. It was a page from Commander Data.

"You'd better go."

Uncharacteristically, Picard drained his brandy before he looked at Guinan. "Our conversation is not yet finished."

Minutes later, Picard stood in front of a seated Commander Data. Though his stance was stiff, inwardly Picard was almost at ease, for Data was not likely to intuit any personality differences from his former self. "Commander."

Data looked up from the padd that he was studying, and nodded by way of greeting. "Lieutenant.

Picard almost smiled as he observed Data trying to come up with the perfect senior-officer-to-junior-officer expression. "Yes, Sir?" At least some things were still the same. Data was still searching for a precise definition of his humanity.

"There is an opening in my Gamma Shift watch at the ops station. Do you wish to be considered for it?"

For a second, Picard was breathless. To be back on the bridge again. To cross that invisible line that delineated bridge personnel from all of the other crew on board the ship. To almost be a senior officer once more… "Of course, Commander. I want the job."

"Then I will propose your name to Captain Halloway for the position."

Picard stood there in front of him. Waiting.

"Is there anything else, Lieutenant?"

Picard really wanted to ask him why he was being considered for this promotion, but was not quite sure how to phrase it.

"Commander, why…"

Data put down his padd. "Your work warrants it, Lieutenant." He waited precisely thirty seconds. When Picard said nothing more, Data announced, "That will be all, Lieutenant. You are dismissed."

Alone in the corridor, Picard allowed himself a slight shake of his head. It was the only outward sign of his amazement that he would permit himself, as his thoughts raced along a path toward the idea of being back on the bridge again. But it was a bridge that was not his bridge. It belonged to someone else. And it was time that Picard learned more about this other captain of the Enterprise. With an increased purpose to his stride, he returned to his quarters for further study of his alternate past.

It too another two off duty shifts of Picard reviewing six years of mission reports, before he began to have a sense of the kind of man that Captain Thomas Halloway really was. For Picard had never met him when he was a captain.

Halloway was a by-the-book captain who ruled his ship; a master with a rigid style and a demanding sense of importance. Picard realized that it had been many decades since he had observed the command of a starship from a junior officer's point of view. Circumstances had most certainly changed. Still, judging by what Picard had learned, Halloway's style of command was far removed from his own.

Halloway had been successful with his missions, seemingly in spite of, rather than because of, the kind of cooperation with his crew to which Captain Picard had become accustomed. For all of the differences between them, still Halloway was no fool. This captain, too, had realized the value of his first officer. If Picard deduced correctly from what wasn't being said in the official reports, the only reason that Will Riker was still the first officer of the Enterprise was because Halloway had been the one blocking Riker's promotions rather than encouraging the man's advancement.

There was one other thing that worried Picard about a man that he had yet to meet. When Commander Maddox had wanted to remove Data from the Enterprise in order to take him apart, Maddox had been actively aided by Captain Halloway. It had been Will Riker who had defended Mr. Data before Phillipa Louvois. The published accounts of the trial were by far more lurid than Picard's own memories. Captain Halloway, acting as the JAG prosecutor, had called Data a 'mechanical pleasuring device,' using phrases that were even more offensive when Data's relationship with Tasha Yar had been revealed.

Picard found Halloway's treatment of Data to be shameful. He now knew why the only times that Data usually reported to the bridge was when the captain was not there. Picard recognized that by accepting Data's offer of a position it would mean working with an officer who was not respected or valued by his captain, and all that this entailed.

Yet, it was evident to Picard, that most of the senior officers still supported Data. It was noticeable in most of their official reports. In spite of Halloway's opinion, Data had proved invaluable to the continued survival of the Enterprise and had been given his due by his fellow senior line officers.

Picard also wondered why Halloway had not transferred Data. He could only surmise that Q had been involved in continuing Data's presence on board the ship.

There was something else that trouble him. His captain's command codes still worked. Though once he had discovered this, he had quickly exited the files that he'd been searching, since the last thing that he wanted to do was to explain how a lieutenant, junior grade, could gain security access to senior staff records. Picard suspected that somehow, his command codes might be identical to Captain Halloway's codes.

This reality had never met Q, and had not learned of the Continuum even though the results of those encounters had survived into this existence. So how could he justify his having valid command codes? By simply explaining that is was the doing of a capricious, omnipotent imp arranging the stage for the next act in the drama of Jean-Luc Picard's rewritten life?

=/\= ='/\'= =/\=

"Lieutenant Picard, report to the captain's ready room."

"On my way, Commander Riker."

"What did you do now, Lieutenant Picard?" Robin Lefler asked, her face a picture of innocent inquiry. "Or are you moving up in the world and will soon forget us lower orders?" When he made no reply she looked at him, studying his face, noting that his response to the summons seemed to be a cross between excitement and worry. "You don't think that the captain knows about my party for Wesley, do you?"

"I'm sure it's nothing of the sort," was Picard's gruff response before he left Robin standing by her station.

On the bridge, he couldn't help himself. He hesitated before the ready room's door. He glanced around just for a bit, absorbing the aura of the place - its smells and familiar sounds, deluding himself just for a second that it was still his.

And then he noticed Counselor Troi sitting in her usual chair. She was frowning. He quickly controlled his thoughts using the Vulcan mind techniques that he'd learned from Sarek, as he briskly stepped into the ready room, more out of a desire to avoid more of her Betazoid probing than to finally be meeting the captain of the Enterprise. With a calm demeanor and a steady hand he walked up to his former desk and politely nodded to the man seated behind it who was working on a padd. He also silently acknowledged Commander Riker who was standing to the side of this captain.

"Lieutenant Picard reporting as ordered, sir."

Not bothering to look up from his desk, Captain Halloway ignored him for several minutes.

By doing so, Picard had a chance to study the man. Thomas Halloway was a big man, probably even larger and taller than Will Riker. He was a captain with a full head of bushy sandy red hair and a slightly ruddy complexion that bespoke of a possible English ancestry. He seemed younger than his age which according to the records, was sixty-six.

About to speak again, Picard received a silent warning look from his former Number One, so he kept quiet, waiting for this captain to respond.

When another minute had passed, only then did the captain finally look up from his work. "Commander Data wants you to work the Gamma bridge shift. I do not normally promote those who wish to work with Commander Data. Therefore, do you want this transfer?" Almost as if he were reluctant to do so, Captain Halloway looked over at his exec. "Commander Riker has said that your work's been good lately. I've studied your file and I agree. If you'd like a full-time transfer to Engineering, I'd promote you quick as there's an opening."

Picard was careful with his choice of words. "Thank you, Captain. But I have already told Commander Data that I would serve on the bridge." He paused, sensing that this was not the response that the captain wanted to hear. "I had previously discussed my desire for bridge service with Commander Riker."

"When?" Halloway ordered.

Riker quickly explained, "Captain a week ago Commander Troi and I were talking over this request with Lieutenant Picard."

"Lieutenant, can you work with that tin man? With Mr. Android Data as your immediate superior officer?"

"I am looking forward to serving with Commander Data." Picard almost smiled as he looked squarely at Will Riker, offering an almost imperceptible nod. "I have always considered Commander Data to be a superior officer."

Halloway did not notice Picard's silent interplay with Riker. "Very well then. You start on the next Gamma shift, Lieutenant." Halloway returned to his work. "Dismissed."

Riker left the ready room with Picard. Stopping at the tactical station he took a padd from Lieutenant Worf and handed it to Picard.

"Read this, Lieutenant. It's what you need to know. Before you are permanently assigned to the ops position, you will also have to survive Mr. Worf's personal security and weaponry tests, as well as get rated on the conn position. The captain doesn't like having anyone on the bridge who can't fly the ship in an emergency." He grinned. "Think you dare try to fly the Enterprise, Lieutenant? This lady is a very big bird."

"But a graceful, beautiful bird, Commander. I can handle that responsibility." Picard studied Will, for this was the first time he'd been near the commander since his arrival. He noted slight differences in Will's appearance compared to what Picard once had known. For one thing, this Will's beard was bushier. And there was a bit more bulk under the red of his tunic.

"You'd better be sure about that, Lieutenant. And don't hit anything. There are no second chances on this bridge."

"Understood, Commander." Will turned and started to return to his seat, when Picard added, "Thank you, Commander. I will do my best."

"You'd better, Jean-Luc," Will warned.

After Picard had left the bridge, Deanna went over to Will and whispered, "Will, we have to talk."

"About what, Deanna?" Will stretched, enjoying the sight of a mentally flustered Deanna fumbling about for the proper words.

"Just a moment ago…"


"When you called Lieutenant Picard by his first name…"


"You shocked him, Will. Lieutenant Picard was truly surprised that you would call him by his first name."

Will grumbled, "Swell. Just what the bridge needs. Another fussbudget, prissy, by-the-rulebook officer."

=/\= ='/\'= =/\=

"Why are we meeting here, Ensign? Picard corrected himself before she could chastise him. "Robin?"

"Let's just say that some people are better at Machiavellian plotting than some others." Her grin was devilish as she motioned for Commander LaForge and Kate Pulaski to join them inside of the shuttlecraft Number Five, the Onizuka. It was parked in shuttle bay two.

"Well, who are you?" Kate Pulaski stared directly at Jean-Luc as if she were mentally assessing the man and finding him wanting in some way. "I don't remember seeing you around here before."

Picard was sorely tempted, but he knew that if he gave in to an immature impulse to tell her exactly what he thought, he would have too much explaining to do. "I prefer the medical care of Dr. Crusher. I am looking forward to her return," was his stiffly stated answer.

Instead of perceiving an insult, Kate seemed amused by something that he had said. "Oh. So you're the one."

Picard stared at her, afraid to find out what she meant by that statement, yet afraid that she would tell him anyway. He could tell that it didn't matter what reality Kate Pulaski was in. She hadn't changed that much at all.

"One, what?" he politely asked.

Kate reached over and patted Picard's forearm. "Don't worry, Lieutenant. You will get along just fine with Mr. Dah-ta."

He winced as she mispronounced Data's name.

Robin interrupted their conversation. "Ready to go have some fun?"

Will Riker rushed into the shuttlecraft and closed the door. "Ready," he cheerfully agreed as he set the transporter controls for inter-ship transport.

"Isn't this precaution…" Picard started to say, "…a bit extreme?" He finished speaking when he rematerialized inside of Data's quarters.

"Not when you are dealing with Captain Halloway's oblique orders, Lieutenant," Data explained as he greeted them.

"Mr. Data?" Picard instinctively used a querying tone of voice that was more suited to a captain's rank than to a lieutenant's position.

"Captain Halloway asked me to report to him with a list of names of all of the Starfleet officers and non-coms, who went to Ensign Robin Lefler's party for Wesley Crusher. Since I am the officer who is actually hosting the party, and not Ensign Lefler, I will be able to tell my captain the truth - that no one attended Ensign Lefler's party."

"Data! Your argument is nothing but pure sophistry." Picard was startled by Data's rationale. "That is not your style."

"True," Data agreed.

But it was Riker who explained. "You've never had to deal with Captain Halloway before now, Lieutenant Picard. One learns to tread very carefully on the bridge…"

"He's a Starfleet officer bound by a code of ethics-"

"Lordy, you're a bigger fool than what I'd first heard, Jean-Luc!" Kate remarked interrupting Picard.

"Madam, you overstep your…" Picard suddenly stopped talking when he realized that he was about to confirm her opinion of him. "Nothing, Doctor."

She almost accepted his apology. "Something tells me that you are going to be sadly disillusioned by what you see on the bridge."

"Perhaps, Doctor. But I will never be disillusioned by her senior officers. They always will be the best in Starfleet."

Kate stared at him, slightly taken back by his statement. "Maybe you are smarter than you look."

Riker was surprised by the quiet conviction behind Picard's words. And he began to form some questions about the man. But his thoughts were interrupted when Wesley and Beverly Crusher materialized along with Worf and Deanna.

Ignoring the others, Robin Lefler raced up to Wesley and kissed him soundly, clearly revealing how glad she was to have him back on board the Enterprise. She let him gasp for air after several minutes had passed. And then he surprised Robin, everyone else and especially his mother, when he kissed Robin back with a convincing passion. Wesley no longer was the impressionable, guileless youth of Picard's past.

After a few more minutes passed, Data walked up to the ensign, tapping her on the shoulder. In that polite style that was truly Data's alone, he asked, "Ensign Lefler, do you wish for us to leave so that you may be alone with Mr. Crusher?"

Kate made a snorting laugh which broke the couple apart. Robin was breathless. And Wesley was red in the face.

"As you can tell, I'm glad that Wesley is back", Robin brightly announced, releasing her lover. "Let's eat."

Though the small party was a success, it was a restrained affair.

Picard perceived Wesley to still be a fragile young man with many wounds both physical and spiritual. Wesley had not yet truly recovered from his ordeal with the Borg - as if one could ever be fully recovered from that. And then there was Beverly Crusher. She was still a beautiful woman, but there was a hardness, a determination and a protectiveness about her that Picard did not find too familiar.

Trying to avoid being too close to a certain Betazoid, Picard found himself seated between Kate and Data, across from Wesley and Beverly. Though he had learned from the records that Wesley had indeed graduated from the Academy, the boy was not wearing a uniform. And there had been nothing about his official Starfleet status in any report other than a notation about Wesley being on an extended medical leave.

"Ensign Crusher, what are you plans?" Picard tried to project only a thoughtful, friendly attitude toward the young man.

"You used to call me 'the boy' when I was pestering you in the labs, Lieutenant."

Picard nodded, paying more consideration to Wesley's attitude than to his words. "I have always enjoyed your company, Wesley."

"That's not what you said when the Nanites got loose. Though I learned how to curse in French during those shifts. Came in handy when I was a cadet." Wesley relaxed a bit. "I don't know what I would have done if it hadn't been for your help then, Lieutenant. Halloway was ready to keelhaul me. It was just one more thing that I'd done wrong according to the captain."

Beverly interjected, "Wes, you never told me about the Nanites." She looked at Picard, wondering why her son had never mentioned it to her.

"It's a long story, Doctor," Picard stated with alacrity.

"Actually, Doctor, it really is an itty-bitty-bitty story," Data remarked.

"Dah-ta!" Kate sounded exasperated. "You need to work on your joke telling program some more before you inflict it upon the rest of us!"

"I was not telling a joke, Doctor Pulaski. Was what I said funny?"

Wesley ignored this conversation as he abruptly stood and went to the replicator, ordering up another synthehol ale. Picard joined him.


"Yes, Lieutenant?"

"I have a feeling that one day you may even be outranking me."

Wesley's laughing response sounded bitter. "Not bloody likely."

"Why not?"

"I've resigned."

Picard was not totally surprised by this revelation. Wesley's civilian outfit had been an indication. "What are you going to do now?"

"What? You're not going to join my mother and Commander Riker in trying to harangue me into changing my mind?"

"You have always known your own mind, Wesley. You will survive. And Starfleet will always be there if you should ever decide to reverse your decision."

"What would you know about surviving?"

Wesley had not intended these words to be cruel, but his words still stung. "More than you know, Mr. Crusher." Picard picked up his ale and drank a bit of it before he reminded Wesley, "You haven't answered my question."

Wesley looked at him, his eyes full of misery but not quite without hope. "I met someone - a philosopher named Lakanta."

"A philosopher?" Picard tried not to sound judgmental.

Wes thought otherwise. "Don't sound so disapproving. He's a friend of Boothby."

"If he is a friend of Boothby, then I cannot think of better company for you. Or for me." He drank some more ale. "What has this Lakanta suggested?"

"He lives on Dorvan V. He wants me to visit."

"There's a North American Indian colony there, I believe."

"Yes, there is. How did you know that?"

Picard's expression revealed more than just a touch of irony. "I do have other interests outside of making reports, Wesley Crusher. I have been fascinated by the Native American culture, amongst others, for many years."

"Well, that's where I'm going. The Enterprise is going to drop me off at Starbase 211. Lakanta will meet me there."

"What does your mother say about all of this?"

"I haven't told her yet."

Picard finished off his ale, then ordered another one from the replicator.

"Will you tell her? She'll listen to you."

Picard wasn't sure how he should respond. He had found little in her personal logs to explain his current status with the lady. "Your mother has always been a strong-minded woman. But you are the one who will have to tell her of your plans. If you cannot defend the rightness of your decision, then I will be unable to further the logic of your position." He tried to reassure Wesley. "Trust your mother, Wesley. She is a more remarkable and understanding woman than you may know."

"Maybe you should try telling her that yourself, sir." Wesley weakly smiled. "But you will help me if I need it, won't you?"

"Always, Mr. Crusher." Picard nodded, then offered his support to the young man. "Wesley, I do understand more about what you have survived than you know. If you need someone to talk to, a friend as it were, I am here."

Wesley was startled by Jean-Luc's words. "I… thank you, Jean-Luc."

Picard inwardly winced, but did not correct the young man for using his first name.

The party became a bit more lively when Guinan walked in the door bearing a welcome home gift of several large bottles of Romulan ale. "Well, when does the poker game start?" Guinan looked around the room. "I've yet to pluck the quills off of every Tarcassian flying razor beast in this room."

Kate Pulaski stood, nose to nose with the barkeep. "Are you comparing me to your foul fowl?"

Data stuck his nose in as well, ducking under a flap to Guinan's cerise hat. "Actually, Doctor, I believe that Guinan was reflecting upon your foul attempt at bluffing during Commander Riker's last poker party."

Wesley weakly giggled. It was the most normal sound he'd uttered in a very long time. "Data! You just made a pun! You've improved your program!"

"Cut the chit chat and get out your poker table, Data," Guinan ordered.

"Yes, Guinan," was Data's dutiful response.

Guinan looked around the room, counting heads. There were too many people to play a normal hand of poker. "Well, let's get started with a game of 'No Peak Baseball." She automatically started clearing off the table.

"Mudd's rules, no doubt," Geordi sighed, as he went over to help her.

"Geordi, if you were stuck on Mudd's world with nothing but primitive androids for company, you'd find yourself re-inventing poker games too," Riker remarked as he found the poker chips.

Picard stood and bowed slightly before Guinan. "I must leave." He announced to the room at large, "I have played poker with Guinan before, so I therefore choose the wiser course of action before suffering ignominious defeat." With that, he nodded toward the others, briefly smiled in Beverly's direction, would have ignored Kate Pulaski if he could have, and then left the room.

"Damn," Riker muttered under his breath. "He doesn't have the guts to play with his superior officers. Some bridge officer he'll make if he's afraid of even trying to win at cards."

Deanna shook her head. "That wasn't why Lieutenant Picard left at all, Will."

"They why did he leave?"

"He thought he was doing the right thing," was Deanna's simple explanation.

A few minutes later, Beverly Crusher and Kate Pulaski left together, discussing the changing of the Sickbay guard, so to speak, since Kate was leaving the ship at SB211. Deanna Troi went with them, somewhat amused by how quickly the two ladies were forming a friendship in spite of that fact that in some respects, they were almost total opposites.

About an hour later as the poker game progressed with even Wesley becoming involved in the hands, the piles of chips were beginning to rise in front of Guinan and Will, who were seated across from each other. As Will dealt out the hand for five card draw, jacks or better to open, he remarked, "Pity Picard didn't want to stay."

Guinan tossed her ante into the pot, then picked up and studied her hand as well as Will's expression. "Don't underestimate, Jean-Luc, Will. Only a fool would do so. And I've never thought you to be too much the fool, in spite of how well you play it, Will Riker." She tossed a chip into the center of the table. "I open. Oh, and just so that there is no misunderstanding, Jean-Luc Picard is my friend. And he has been my friend for a very long time." She smiled that peculiar smile that had been known to drive certain people batty over the centuries.

Worf grunted as he raised the bid, considering Guinan's words. He would have to consider treating the lieutenant with greater esteem, since he had learned to respect anyone that Guinan referred to as a 'friend'.

Data and Robin matched the bid. Wesley raised it. Geordi folded. And Will raised the bet again. He started to deal out the requested replacement cards. Wesley was on his way to winning when Robin suddenly announced that she was folding and that it was time for her to leave. For some reason, Wesley declared that he'd nothing in his hand and went to escort Robin to her quarters.

"I hope the lady's roommate is on duty," Riker casually remarked, pleased with the way things had turned out this evening. He laid down his full house and raked in the pot.

"Ensign McKnight is scheduled for the next two shifts," was Worf's answer. As he dealt out the cards for a hand of 'Guts', he explained the Klingon variations to the rules.

=/\= ='/\'= =/\=

Picard sat at his desk, considering his next day's schedule. Tomorrow was his day off and he was seriously considering joining the preliminary round for the ship-wide fencing tournament. When he had been a captain, he had never participated. And his other self never had become involved as well. But now, he felt like doing it if only to try and establish some new sense of normalcy to this new life.

For as the hours passed, Picard was beginning to believe that Q had truly stranded him here. And though he would have preferred to have died as a starship captain, Q obviously was not giving him a choice. So life had to proceed. He had thought about staying to play poker in Data's quarters, but he was still uncomfortable with the idea of becoming better acquainted with his former senior officers, especially under the watchful eye of Deanna Troi.

Regarding the lateness of the hour, and the fact that he was wearing only a short grey cotton robe, the sound of his doorbell chirping startled him. He considered the possibility that it was Wesley coming to talk, after the party. What he didn't expect was for Beverly Crusher to come storming through the door.


Totally confused as to why she was yelling, much less to why she was yelling at him since they had barely exchanged nothing but the polite necessities during the party, Picard stepped aside as she pushed past him.

"How dare I what, Dr. Crusher?"

"Damn you, Jean-Luc!" She stomped around the small living room, causing little table top items to rattle. She was apparently looking for something. "You can't even call me by my first name when we're alone!" She tromped over to a built-in bookcase. "Where's my Horg'ahn?"


"My Horg-ahn - the one that I gave you on Risa. You know…" Her voice dripped with angry sarcasm. "…that secret holiday when we became lovers?"

"Beverly…" He reached out his hand toward her, then froze, shocked to see tears streaming down her face. He had never seen Beverly like this before. Not even when Jack had died. Then she had been grieving. But this was different. She was breaking down, losing control.

"Beverly. You're upset. Why?"

She was beyond being merely upset. It was as if the burden of all of the pain and the worry and the fear that had grown continuously in her heart from the moment that the Borg had arrived until her return to the Enterprise, had finally emerged. And Beverly was now paying its emotional toll.

"I thought I could handle it. Handle anything and everything as long as Wesley was alive. But then he came to Earth to recuperate." She shook her head, wiping away some tears with the back of her hand. "All of that nastiness, Jean-Luc. Back at the Academy. At Starfleet General. Here. Why are people so vicious?"

"Because… they are afraid, Beverly. They must have someone to blame." He was speaking from bitter experience.

"And that time, alone. Scared. What the people would whisper…" She drew in a wracking deep breath. "…even in front of us… to our faces…" She wiped away some more tears. "What they really wanted to do to Wesley, even though everyone knew he wasn't responsible for becoming Locutus…" She stared at him, her blue eyes shimmering with suspicions. "You don't blame Wesley, too? Do you, Jean-Luc? You don't blame my son?"

Jean-Luc pulled her into his arms, trying to ease her pain even as he fought with his own overwhelming sense of guilt over what had happened to Wesley. "Hush, Doctor."

She didn't pay attention to what he had just said. Beverly pulled away from him, grabbing his upper arms, stopping his attempts to comfort her. "Answer me, Jean-Luc! Do you blame Wesley too?"

He softly pleaded, "Hush, Beverly." Even as he drew her back to his chest, he denied her words, speaking with a conviction that broke through her anger and reached her soul. "Beverly, how could you even think that I would blame Wesley? I know he is innocent of all sin." He hugged her close, swaying slightly as he provided her a haven, a safe place where she could release her burdens.

For a moment she stiffened, holding herself away from him. But then her need for the human comfort that he offered was overpowering. "I thought… I thought…" She hiccupped.

"What did you think, Beverly? Tell me."

"When you ignored me at the party, I thought that you no longer wanted me any more. That your promotion to the bridge and your career were more important to you than your affair with the mother of Locutus."

"Oh, Beverly…" He responded instinctively to her pain, kissing her brow, wiping away more tears. "You misunderstood me. For that, I do apologize." Ever so carefully, he started rubbing and massaging her shoulders, trying to establish a connection. And then her prior words registered in his consciousness. "Secret lovers…?"

She rested her forehead against his cheek for a second, calming down a bit, letting his touch work its magic. Only then did she look straight into his molten dark eyes. She only saw confusion there. "You've changed your mind about us?"

"I…" He hesitated too long.

"You want to end our relationship?"

Jean-Luc was having a bit of difficulty coping with all of the shocking changes to his relationship with Beverly Crusher. Yet, he couldn't deny the reality of Beverly. And how good she felt in his arms.

"What about Wesley?" It was the only thing he could think of in response to her question.

She groaned, almost as if she were disappointed by his words. "You're right, of course. I should wait until Wesley leaves the Enterprise. And before Captain Halloway finds out about us."

"Captain Halloway - he would object?"

"Let's just say that I don't want Tom challenging you to a duel."

"Beverly." He abruptly moved away from her, for his body was beginning to have ungoverned responses of its own. He had to have some space between them.

"What, Jean-Luc?"

He could see that she was confounded by his actions. He had to convince her that he was not rejecting her. "I didn't speak to you at the party because I didn't know how to respond to you. It has been a long time since you were on board the Enterprise. I didn't know how you would feel about…"

"In other words, you're upset because I never wrote?" And then she offered him a loving smile as if she were expecting him to simply forgive her.

Jean-Luc could never be perturbed with Beverly when she smiled at him like that. He had never seen this particular look directed at him before. And there was a part of him that instinctively replied to the warmth of its promise.

"Well, I have heard a rumor that certain members of the Crusher family have had difficulty in figuring out how to send their correspondence."

She slowly relaxed. He was teasing her. Everything would be all right now. Beverly left him, ambling over to a wall cupboard to open up a cabinet door, as if she were searching for something.

"Speak for yourself, Jean-Luc. I do recall only receiving four sub-space letters from you." She arched an eye brow. "And none of them could be qualified as billet-doux."

He chuckled, ruefully denying her words. "Ah Beverly, if only I could have dispatched to you the letters that I truly wanted to write. But I never could summon the nerve to commit them to Starfleet transmission." And he was speaking a truth that was valid in any reality. So many times in his life he had wanted to pen words of love to Beverly. But never did.

She appeared relieved as she picked up a bottle of cabernet sauvignon. "Good. You have some wine left. I'll have to thank Robert in person, someday." She started rummaging again. "Now, I know that you have a corkscrew around here somewhere, Jean-Luc." She sent a questioning look in his direction. "That is, unless you loaned it to Mr. Data for a scientific experiment?"

Somewhat taken back by how comfortable she seemed to be in his quarters, he automatically responded, "In the upper right drawer."

She located the large antique brass and oak corkscrew that had been in the Picard family for generations. She placed the bottle of wine and the corkscrew on the counter, and moved next to the door to his bedroom. The good doctor then decided to stop being so good. It was time she showed him an almost forgotten side to her personality.

"Make love to me, Jean-Luc."


She began to undo her tunic, watching him as he watched her fingers move slowly over the blue and black of her uniform. He was mesmerized.

Her top slid down her shoulders to her waist. A black lace chemise came into sight.

"Mon Dieu."

She jerked her head toward the bed in the other room. "You know." She kicked off a boot. "You." The boot went sailing past him to land with a thunk on his desk. "Me."

He made a croaking sound as if he could not quite believe what he was seeing right before his eyes. "Unless you'd rather drink the wine in here?" She kicked off her other boot. This one landed by his feet.

"Beverly…" Her name was a rasping sound as if it were hauled out of his throat by a Targhee horn slide.

"I remember how you complained about the lumps in your sofa."

This he knew had to be an exaggeration. There was no way he would ever complain about making love to Beverly. "What?" His voice sounded almost steady until it cracked.

Only then did Beverly realize that he might not be playing a game with her. He really was unsure about the renewal of their love affair. And all of her fears and doubts resurfaced.

She attacked him. "Don you dare tell me that we are through! Especially not tonight! I need you, Jean-Luc, though only the gods know why! I sure don't." Tears were threatening to surface again. "If you intend to end our love affair, well you'd damn well better do it tomorrow!"

"We must think…"

He tried. He really did.

"Think about this!" she snapped. She grabbed him. And kissed him. In anger, fear, need and hunger. Especially in hunger. A staggering need denied for far too long.

And Jean-Luc found that he had no defense against her. His own emotions were too brittle to withstand a battle within for his own heart's desire. His struggle with Q had been too much of a tribulation for his bruised and battered being. He was not thinking now. He only knew one thing - his need matched hers. And any arguments on the side of sanity were quickly forgotten when the floodgates to the surge of their passion opened.

For it was passion between them. A true desire encompassing the demand of both body and soul.

"Beverly…" He lifted his lips away from hers, even as his body moved against hers.

"What?" She instinctively tried to pull him back into their kiss, as her body began to match his thrusting.



It was the look in her eyes that struck away his final protests. For a long time he stared into her eyes, as if he were seeing something in them, sensing some kind of eternal magic that promised that he would never be alone again. And when he could no longer reason, when the only reality of his life was the beat of her heart against his chest, he bent his lips to hers and kissed her with a gentleness that was as instinctive to his nature as was his compassion. He kissed her in the way he had always dreamed of kissing her.

It was enough. And then it became something more. Their kisses changed. He dragged his mouth against hers as if her sweetness was a lifeline to a man drowning in a sea of loneliness. His touch became urgent as he roughly moved aside the delicate fabric of her chemise. His mouth left hers, blazing a trail of fire down her neck before he nipped a tender spot on her collarbone. He tangled his fingers in her glorious hair, pulling her head backwards so that the swell of her breasts could know his touch.

"Jean-Luc…" His name became a moan as she suddenly found herself throwing off all self control. Her knees threatened to buckle as he teased her sensitive breasts with his tongue.

Yet somehow, he'd heard her. Reluctantly he raised his lips up to hers again, but only to whisper, "The wine… we'll drink it later." Sweeping her up into his arms, he carried her with surprisingly steady strides into his bedroom, ignoring the last vestiges of his common sense. He acknowledged that his heart ruled now. The woman that he loved - adored - was in his arms. And she needed him. He could not and would not let her go.

"Damn it, I'm a doctor. You shouldn't be carrying me like this," she warned even as she permitted him to carefully place her down on his bed. She could detect no sign of injury though, as with an amazingly erotic skill, he removed the remainder of her clothing. When he stopped, she suddenly accepted her responsibility toward him. It took her but a moment to tug off his robe and pull him down next to her side. But it took her most of the night to please him as greatly and generously, as he pleased her.

At one point during a respite from their lovemaking, her sole conscious thought was that he had never loved her like this before.

In the last hours of the shipboard night, when the hum of the mighty Enterprise was at its softest levels, he slid away from her. His first rational thought was only about Beverly and what a wondrous thing it was to love her.

A long time later, he found his discarded robe, donned it, and then sat on the room's lone arm chair. He smiled as he watched Beverly sleep, taking delight in just simply counting her steady breaths, memorizing the way she looked curling up into his pillows with an arm outstretched as if she were seeking his presence. He would forever remember this time.

He knew that there were many thing things that he should be thinking about. Important things. But he couldn't. He could only revel in his feelings. The thought of spending the rest of his life in this place was not such a ghastly future after all.

Their lovemaking had been beyond his fervid fantasies. He had thought that he had recognized the depth of his feelings for Beverly. But he hadn't conceived of its true power at all.

For a while he studied her in peace, with a rare, tender expression in his eyes. He was experiencing a sense of contentment that was almost a foreign, unidentifiable feeling. For the first time he was truly pleased with this new world. It was possible that he could be content here.

But such supreme joy could not last. The thread of a sublimely wicked thought began to weave its insidious way into his consciousness. Even as he fought against it, its wickedness grew, consuming every breath as he began to rock back and forth in abject horror. He began to comprehend what Q had really done.

"Merde!" It was a silent curse into the darkness as the taking in of Q's fiendishness grew. Q had gone too far. Picard would willingly consign Q to the very depths of whatever hell there was that would be stupid enough to take the Continuum's most despicable citizen as a resident.

Beverly was the reason. In her arms, he had found a peace that he'd never known. As a lieutenant, he could have Beverly as the lover in his life. Or, he could choose to be a ship's captain. But he couldn't have both.

Beverly was the crucible that Q was forcing upon him.

"Merde!" This time, he said it loud enough to almost disturb Beverly.

"Tsk, tsk, tsk, Jean-Luc. You don't want to wake your beauteous Beverly while we have our little chat. Now do you, mon capitaine?"

The focus of his loathing lolled against the door jamb.



Worried that they might actually wake Beverly, Picard whispered, "Let us take our discussion someplace more private."

"I thought you'd never ask."

The next second Picard found himself sitting in his chair on top of the saucer section of the Enterprise, near the dorsal phaser array. The stars went whizzing by. He was in space, somehow surviving and breathing in a vacuum.

"Don't, Jean-Luc," Q warned as he appeared sitting on a gilded hand-carved throne directly opposite Picard. He was dressed like King Henry VIII. "Like my chair, Jean-Luc?"

"The Royal family of England will no doubt miss it, Q."


Picard barely controlled his anger. "A royal throne does not a ruler make."

"Doesn't it? Is that why you never let anyone sit in your chair when you were captain of the Enterprise?" In the blink of an eye the throne was gone and Q was suspended hanging over Jean-Luc. "That's why I am here, you know."


"Wakey, wakey. Time to go back, Jean-Luc."

"To what?"

Q's expression bordered on the lascivious. "Well, if I had known that your Doctor Beverly would look that luscious when she is naked, I-"

"You were spying on us? How dare you!"

"You forget to whom you are speaking, Jean-Luc. I dare anything. Beverly does have gloriously long legs, doesn't she? And she's a natural redhead too…"

Since this was exactly what Picard had been thinking only a few minutes earlier, his rage grew. "Q…"

"Pity you have to leave her. Time to go, mon capitaine." Q donned his most innocent look as he watched Picard clutch the arms of his chair. "You do want to go back, don't you, Captain Picard?"


"If you go back, you'll have a chance to die as the most noble captain of the Enterprise again." Q benignly smiled. "Never let it be said that I an not a fair god."

"You will never be a god to me."

Q sniffed. "Well,, if that's the way you feel about it, you can stay here. Of course, with Beverly around, that wouldn't exactly be a punishment, now would it? Funny. Who would have ever thought that the lady would prefer a lowly, nonentity lieutenant over an overly-proud, pompous career-minded captain?"

"Q!" Picard was momentarily at a loss, for there was some truth to Q's words.

Q shrugged. "I see that you need more time to think about my too generous offer, mon petite chou. I'll be back!" With a toss of his ermine cape, he was gone. Picard just sat there on the hull, staring at the stars. Abruptly he realized that he was in vacuum, standing barefoot on the outside hull of the Enterprise wearing only a robe. He was torn between thinking that this was a bizarre way to die, and then wondering that if he survived, how was he ever going to explain this to Starfleet. He looked around. And then he acknowledged to himself that he had always been curious about what it would be like to be on the outside of his ship in space, sans space suit. The last thought caused him to chuckle.

"Oops. I forgot.," a voice boomed through the vacuum. Before Picard could even ponder this scientific impossibility, he found himself back inside of his cabin. Sitting on his chair.

"Merde." This time he did disturb Beverly.

On the bridge, Data tried to understand what had caused the short burst of unidentified energy to appear on the hull of the Enterprise. Since he could determine no damage or danger to the ship, or the source of the energy, Data was left with a puzzle that he would attempt to solve at his leisure. He duly made a note in his log.

"Jean-Luc?" Beverly sleepily looked around the bedroom before she found the source of her disturbance, seated in the dim light. "What's wrong?" She didn't know what it was that had upset him. She just knew that he was upset. She hoped that she wasn't the reason for his distress.

He came over to the bed, and sat down on the edge, moving aside the pewter-colored coverlet. "There is nothing wrong with you, my love."

It took her a moment to really comprehend what he had just stated. "You've never said that before."

Sliding out of his robe, he joined her, pulling her back into his arms. Even though he'd held her for only a few short hours, he found himself already accustomed to having her in his bed.

"I have loved you a very long time, Beverly. Surely, you knew that?"

Bracing herself up on her elbow, Beverly tried to find the right words to express her feelings. "Back on Risa, after you destroyed the Tox Uthat, I thought that I heard you say it. But you said it after we'd drunk several Pon Farr Fizzies, so I wasn't really sure if you'd meant it."

"And you never asked?"

"What was there to ask? You'd either tell me the truth, or lie about it. Either way, I wasn't so sure that I wanted to hear you repeat your words."

He'd spent too many years wondering about Beverly's feelings to have her avoid the issue one more time. Especially not after tonight. "You could tell me how you feel."

"Jean-Luc." She tried to control her sense of exasperation as she sat up, reaching for her half-empty wine glass on the small stand by the bed. "It was only a little while after Risa that we met the Borg."

"And after that you eventually went back to Starfleet headquarters to be with Wesley." He picked up the bottle of cabernet and poured more wine into her glass, before he found his own glass and filled it. He took a gamble. "Why didn't you want Wesley to recover on board the Enterprise? I've always wondered about that decision."

"As if I were going to tell you that Captain Halloway ordered Wesley off of the ship in spite of the fact that it was Wesley who helped Data save this ship - and the Federation."

"And the Federation." Picard considered her words as he tried not to let his revulsion toward Thomas Halloway grow. "About Wesley."

"He's staying with Robin. That is, if the poker game as ended." She drank some of her wine. "It's good for Wesley to be back here with the friends who never deserted him. So many other people…"

"I know, my love."

Even though the lighting was low in the bedroom, Beverly could see that Jean-Luc did understand what her son had gone through.

Picard suddenly smiled; a sad expression of comprehension. "And you do not need my pressuring you at the moment. I can wait." He automatically glanced toward where a star portal should have been, and then remembered why there wasn't one. "I've been given some time."

"Thank you, Jean-Luc. Uh, oh. Time." Beverly listened to the dull computer voice tell her the hour. "I promised to have lunch with Deanna before she leaves for her counselor's convention. We have a few hours left before I have to go."

The lady had rather definite ideas as to how she wished to spend them. And she didn't want to be alone.

Neither did Jean-Luc. In Beverly's arms, he would have no time to think.

=/\= ='/\'= =/\=

Deanna was grinning to herself when Will Riker stopped by her quarters to help her tote her luggage over to the transporter room. She was going to be beaming over to the Pietr Malen, an Euryclase vessel which was traveling to the neuropsychology seminar on Borka VI.

"I'm always pleased when you're happy to see me, Deanna," Will teased. He entered Deanna's bedroom and saw the tall, teetering pile of luggage. He groaned. "Don't they have replicators at these conventions of yours?"

She ignored him. Instead, she was still grinning.

He tapped his comm badge. "Ensign Pulver, lock onto these coordinates and beam this luggage to your transporter pad. After watching the impressive pile disappear, he donned his best, charming façade. "All right, Deanna. What's so funny?"


"And?" Will waited for Deanna to give him a clue.

"She's reconciled with her lover. I am just merely being pleased for her."

"Beverly has a lover?" Will shook his head. "Am I supposed to guess who the very lucky fellow is, or do I get to interrogate you?" He ogled her crimson silk dress with its eye catching décolletage, and then stared pointedly at her unmade bed.

"Will, behave yourself!"

"Never - when it comes to you, Deanna."

She laughed, a trilling sound that indicated that she was quite pleased with her world at the moment. "Beverly and Jean-Luc have resolved some of their differences.

Will gasped. "Jean-Luc?" He couldn't believe that this milquetoast of a man was the sort of lover that Beverly would choose. Especially not after all that he had personally shared with Beverly during the Odan incident. "You don't meant Lieutenant Jean-Luc Picard, do you?"

"Yes, Jean-Luc Picard." She studied his expression and then giggled. "Don't look so aghast."

"But.. But… him?"

"Why does this surprise you? After all, in spite of the fact that Picard is a mere lieutenant, he still is a Frenchman."

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"Judging by Beverly's sense of satisfaction this morning, I would say a great deal."

He vehemently shook his head. "No, Deanna. Don't tell me any more details." And then he thought of something. "What is the captain going to say?"

"Well, I hope that Captain Halloway doesn't find out about them for a long time. Beverly has enough troubles as it is."

"True." Will shook his head. "But still - Jean-Luc Picard?"

"You know, for a while I was quite worried about the man."

"You were? Why?"

"I sensed something different about Picard. But now, I simply believe that it was because he was nervous about Beverly coming back to the ship."

"Why did you think that he was different?" Riker was instantly alert about a possible threat to the Enterprise. Unlike a captain who cared almost as much for his image as he did for his ship, Will was well aware of what it really took to keep this great lady safe.

"He had a sense of over-familiarity about us. It had to have been because of what Beverly has told him. I'll tell you the rest when I get back from my seminar. It's a silly story. And Mr. Data has it well in hand, anyway."


"I asked Data to keep an eye on Picard."

"So that's why Data wanted him for the Gamma shift. I wondered about that. I didn't think it was because of Picard's stellar service record."

She swatted him. "Be kind, Will. Not everyone was born for command like you were. Besides I am sure that Lieutenant Picard has many admirable qualities besides being French."

"Well, Beverly must be the only one who knows about those qualities."

She started to leave when Will stopped her, pulling the lady into his arms. "You weren't going to leave without your lucky, good-bye kiss, now were you?"

Deanna felt like giggling again, when their kiss ended.

=/\= ='/\'= =/\=

Picard waited. Sooner or later Q would return. And he still did not know what he would tell the being who would never be Picard's god.

The duty shifts went by. And Picard was amazed at how similar they were to other duty shifts he had shared with Mr. Data. However, he did have to be very careful by word or deed that he didn't forget that his place was not in the center chair on the bridge. His instinctive reactions had to be rigidly controlled.

One night though, near the end of the watch, Will Riker entered the bridge. Data stepped away from the captain's chair and offered it to Will. But the man shook his head. "I'm not on duty, Commander Data."

Turning slightly so he could surreptitiously watch Data and Will, Jean-Luc listened to their conversation. He was amazed at how often the command officers on the bridge forgot that there were other people around them, observing and listening to anything and everything.

"Is there anything that I can do for you, Commander?" Data politely asked.

"Yes, Mr. Data. Do you know when Counselor Troi is due back from the Borka VI seminar? I can't find her travel plans in the computer."

"Counselor Troi was planning to have a short leave on Betazed after leaving Borka VI, Commander. She posted indefinite plans for the next fifteen days. She is supposed to confirm her schedule with the Enterprise, after she has made her final arrangements."

Picard sat there, listening to their conversation, wondering why the name "Borka VI' seemed so important. So vital. "Mon Dieu!" His gasp of comprehension was audible to Mr. Data.

Data turned and looked at the lieutenant at the ops position. "Mr. Picard, is there a problem?"

As Picard tried to formulate an answer to that question, the watch changed. The Alpha shift officers began to come onto the bridge, including Halloway.

"Did you not hear me, Lieutenant Picard?" Data took a step closer to the man. "Are you all right?"

"Is there a problem, Dah-ta?" Captain Halloway asked, stepping between them.

Picard knew immediately that this captain was more concerned about finding fault with Data that he was in solving any possible problem. He quickly spoke up. "No, sir. Everything is fine."

Data looked at Picard but could see nothing that indicated a problem. He stepped back, away from the captain's chair. "Sir, during the Gamma watch, there were twenty-three messages from Starfleet. Two, I directed to your…"

"Stow it." Halloway ordered as he took the chair away from Data. "I'll read your reports later."

Picard got the intuitive impression that this captain rarely did that.

Halloway looked over at his exec. "Are you changing shifts on me again, Will?"

"Uh, no, sir. I was just trying to find out when Counselor Troi would be returning to the ship."

Halloway chortled. "I told the little lady that she could take some additional shore leave and go shopping. We're not supposed to catch up with her until she returns to SB211. She'll have cleaned out the promenade shops by then. We may have to loan her some credits in order to get her off of the starbase." The captain laughed at his own witty remarks. No one else did.

Will stiffened, hiding his feelings. "Yes, sir. We all know how well Counselor Troi loves to shop." Will turned to go. "I'll be in my quarters, sir."

Halloway ignored him. Instead, he focused on Picard as he walked to the outer railing. "Picard."

Picard stiffened. "Yes, sir?"

"You been rated yet?"

Worf loomed behind Picard to answer the captain's question. "Lieutenant Picard has passed all security tests." Worf almost smiled as he looked at the man. "Congratulations, Lieutenant Picard. You have placed fifth in the overall shipboard standings, and fourth in marksmanship."

This news surprised Halloway. "And his piloting skills?"

Worf took a moment to clear his throat, glancing for a second at Will Riker who was still standing by the turbolift doors. "Second place, sir."

"Second? Second to what?"

"Only Commander Data has scored higher, Captain," Worf proudly explained.

Halloway laughed; a big booming sound, disturbing the usual peace of the bridge. "Well, what do you know, Will Riker! Picard's a better pilot than you!"

Calmly looking at Halloway, and then at Will Riker, Picard knew that he had been foolish indeed to score so well on these tests. He had drawn the kind of attention to himself that he had deliberately sought to avoid. He cursed his own lack of foresight over this egotistical error.

"I am sure that there is some sort of mistake, Captain." Picard spoke quickly, trying to salvage the situation. "I know that I am not that good of a pilot." He turned toward Mr. Data. "Commander, perhaps you could re-test me? I am sure that somehow there's been an error, somewhere."

"If you wish it, Lieutenant," Data politely responded.

"Well, we'll see how good you really are, Picard," Halloway announced. "By the way, if you make it to the quarter finals in the fencing tournament, you'd better expect to be skewered by me."

"I look forward to our match," was Picard's polite response. He had other more important matters on his mind. Especially concerning the whereabouts of Counselor Troi. He was afraid for her. Very afraid.

Entering his quarters, he was relieved that Beverly wasn't there. Normally, he would have been amused by the lady preferring his cabin over her more spacious quarters, but at this moment, he was glad that there was no one observing him.

He tried to remember the exact details. Then he went to his terminal. "Computer, locate Counselor Troi." After taking several minutes to be informed that the lady was no longer on Borka VI, Picard's worries grew. If history replayed itself correctly, Picard knew where the lady was. However, he was afraid that history had already been altered. When he'd been captain, Deanna had gone to the Borka VI conference before Picard's fatal encounter with the Lenarian Dissidents. Now, it was after.

"Computer, retrieve the record of Ensign Stefan DeSeve."

"Ensign DeSeve's records are classified," was the computer's noncommittal response.

Picard considered this information. Why would those records be classified now? "Computer, when were Ensign DeSeve's records classified?"

"Stardate 46519.2"

"Merde. He's here." Reacting to this information, Picard went to the brig where he was informed that it was off-limits to all but Security and the captain. Knowing that Deanna's life depended upon rendezvousing with the Corvallan freighter and the IRW Khazara, Picard did what was necessary. He hit his comm badge. "Picard to Commander Data."

"Yes, Lieutenant?"

"Please meet me at Commander Riker's quarters. It is imperative. Picard out." Not expecting Data to argue with him, Jean-Luc took the fastest route to Riker's quarters.

"What's so urgent, Lieutenant?" a still groggy Will Riker asked as he let Picard into his quarters. It was obvious that Will had been dragged out of bed by Picard's presence. A moment later, Data arrived.

"Deanna Troi's life is in danger."

This announcement woke Will Riker up.

"How so, Lieutenant," Data asked.

Picard faced them, trusting his instincts about these two officers, hoping that neither one had been changed too much. "Ensign DeSeve. Have you spoken with him, Commander Riker?"

"How the hell do you know about the Romulan Defector? That's supposed to be classified!" Will roared. "And what did you mean about Deanna?"

Jean-Luc waved his hand as if to silence the man. "Please, Commander. There is much that I must explain. But first, I need to know what Ensign DeSeve has said to you."


"You were the officer who went with Mr. Data to Romulus."

"Are you accusing me of something?" Will almost yelled.

"Of course not, Will. Never." Picard said his first name out of habit, not even realizing that he'd said it.


But it was Data who silenced Will this time with a curt gesture. Data spoke quietly, but with the force of conviction.


"Yes?" Picard reacted instinctively. And then he realized what he had done.

"Data, what are you babbling about?" Riker asked, lowering his voice.

Picard slowly responded. "Why did you call me captain, Mr. Data?"

"Lieutenant, I have observed that every time the single word 'captain' was said in your presence, you have reacted. There were one-hundred-and-thirty-seven physiognomic instinctive responses during the past six days."


"Do you have grandiose delusions? Explain, Mister. And it had better be good," Riker ordered.

"My explanations can wait, Commander. Right now, you must talk with Ensign DeSeve if you have not done so already."

Data took Picard's request quite seriously. "Captain Halloway is handling the matter of Ensign DeSeve. He has not permitted either Commander Riker or myself to question the defector." Data paused for a moment and considered whether or not he should continue. There was some sort of righteous desperation about Picard's attitude that convinced him to do so. "However, I have seen reports that Ensign DeSeve has constantly been requesting to speak with you, Commander."

"Why wasn't I told?"

"Captain Halloway ordered me not to do so."

Picard headed toward the door.

"And just where do you think that you are going, Lieutenant?" Riker almost sneered when he stated Picard's rank.

"You know, Commander, you are always grumpy before your first cup of coffee," Picard calmly remarked. "I am going to speak with Ensign DeSeve."

Data didn't agree. "Captain Halloway is the only ship's officer who can speak with Ensign DeSeve. Commander Riker does not have clearance. Neither do I."

Picard shook his head. "No matter." He looked at Will and finally noticed that the man was only wearing plaid boxers. "Get dressed, Commander." Sensing that Will was about to protest being given an order by a mere lieutenant, j.g., Picard added, "I am trying to save Deanna's life. I trust that we will be in time to do so, with your help."

Minutes later they stood before the door to Brig Number Three.

"Is there a guard inside?" Picard asked of Data.

"Yes, Lieutenant."

Picard looked at Will. "We have to get inside in order for you to order the security officer to leave."

"And just how are you going to do that?" Riker's attitude was growing more foul as the situation continued. He was shocked when, instead of explaining anything, Picard reached over and tapped in a security clearance to the brig's door. What he didn't expect was for the door to slide open.

"Interesting," was Data's observation as they stepped into the brig. The security officer on duty pointed his phaser at the three officers.

"Outside," Will ordered.

The guard tapped his comm badge. "Lieutenant Worf? Please come to Brig Number Three."

They all stood inside the brig waiting for Worf until he barreled through the door. "Commanders. Lieutenant." Worf looked at them, waiting to discover what was occurring.

It was Picard who went before Worf and quietly spoke. "Worf, Deanna's life is in danger. In order to help her, Commander Riker needs to speak with DeSeve."

Worf looked at Riker. Riker nodded. He didn't even have to think it over. "Ensign Pulver, you know nothing. Wait outside," Worf ordered.

"Thank the Praetor of Remus, you've showed up, Commander!" DeSeve yelled from behind the cell's barrier as the guard left. "You're Riker, aren't you?"

"Yes, DeSeve, What did you have to say to me?" Once Riker heard the phrase 'Klondike diplomacy', he began to believe DeSeve's words.

After getting as much information from DeSeve that they dared, Data, Worf and Picard returned to Riker's quarters.

Once inside, Data asked Worf if Riker's quarters were being monitored. When this was denied, Data then checked over Riker's rooms, just in case the security chief was not away of everything that his captain did. When all was secure, only then did Data confront Picard.

"Who are you?"

It was a simple question from an android. A question that Jean-Luc Picard could no longer avoid answering.

Jean-Luc walked over to the replicator, temporarily ignoring them. "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot."

"Who are you?" This time it was Worf who grunted this question.

Picard took a sip of his tea as if to steady himself and was about to speak when Riker's doorbell chirruped.

"Who is it," Riker yelled.

"Beverly Crusher."

"Merde," Picard muttered one more time, before adding, "Why not?" And then he tapped his comm badge. "Commander LaForge, report to Commander Riker's quarters."

Ignoring Beverly as she entered his living room, Riker asked, "Just what the hell do you think you're doing giving superior officers orders, Lieutenant?" His voice was calm, but it did not disguise his anger or his determination.

Trouble by Will's attitude, Beverly sat down next to Jean-Luc on the grey sofa. "Jean-Luc, what is happening? Why?" She gestured toward Will.

"Wait until Commander LaForge arrives." And then Picard sipped some more tea.

"Put down your blasted cup of tea," Will Riker ordered, deciding that Picard had delayed long enough. "Let's start with the basics. How did you know about DeSeve?" But before he could ask anything more, Geordi arrived.

"I just left the holodeck. You should see Guinan fencing with the captain. She's absolutely amazing." He looked about, curious as to why he was summoned. "What's up, Commander?" But his cheerful demeanor disappeared when he analyzed the expression on Will's face.

Worf came next to Picard and glared down at him. "The lieutenant was about to answer some of my questions." His hand caressed his weapon holster.

"Jean-Luc, what is going on?" Beverly wasn't bothering to hide her concern for the man as she placed her hand on his arm."

Picard knew that it was time, though he took a moment to treasure Beverly's touch.

"It is a very complicated story. And I will explain. But the first, most important thing to do is to take the Enterprise to the Corvallan rendezvous point."

"Captain Halloway will not permit that," Data observed.

"If we do not reach that position, then Deanna Troi will be in grave danger." Picard could see that Riker did not quite believe him.

"Why?" barked Riker. "What does DeSeve have to do with Deanna?"

"Counselor Troi was kidnapped from the Borka VI seminar. She has been surgically altered to become a member of the Tal Shiar. She is on board the Romulan war bird, the Khazara, right now. The war bird is ordered to destroy the Corvallan ship that DeSeve says we are supposed to meet. Instead the Enterprise will encounter the war bird so that important Romulan defectors can be transported aboard the Enterprise before the destruction of the freighter. And at that point we must rescue Deanna before her identity is discovered."

"You expect me to swallow this story?" was Riker's reaction.

Data analyzed Picard's words and then came to a different conclusion. "Who are you, Captain Picard?"

Ignoring the sputtering of those around him, and avoiding looking at Beverly, Picard put down his teacup, and silently acknowledged Data's perception. "I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard. But from a different reality."

"What happened to this reality's Lieutenant Picard?" Data was curious.

"He is me. But we can discuss this matter later. What is of importance is that in my former reality, this incident with Deanna Troi has already happened, and she was rescued. But when my reality changed, so did your history's chronology."

"Have there been other changes, Captain?" Data continued his questioning, as the others sat stunned in silence, not quite believing what they were hearing. But also not able to discount Picard's words.

"Some. But what is important is that the major events of both time lines have remained similar. Which is why Troi must be returned to us at all costs."

"Unless we convince Captain Halloway, it will be difficult to take the ship to the Corvallan coordinates."

"If necessary, then I will do it," Picard forcefully asserted. "For reasons I do not comprehend, my captain's command codes are still valid on board this Enterprise. If I have to commandeer the ship, then I can and will."

"But Jean-Luc! What will happen to you if you do that?" Beverly was afraid. She could sense that there were many things he was not revealing. "You just can't mutiny against Captain Halloway!"

Both of my pasts' timelines should merge once Deanna is rescued. Other than a conference with the Lenarians, I have no further knowledge of the future."

"Only Captain Halloway and I know that our next assignment is to mediate at the Lenarian conference," Riker grimly stated. He did not want to believe Picard's words, yet he could not ignore them. He found it impossible to accept that this lieutenant could be a starship captain in any reality. He then thought of something even more appalling. "You said that you were a captain, Picard. Captain of what ship?"

"The USS Enterprise 1701D, Number One." Picard did not disguise his sense of irony in understanding Riker's skeptical point of view.

"Impossible!" yelled Riker, suddenly enraged at this thought. He could not possibly have misjudged so greatly, the character of this lieutenant.

But Data was unaffected by Riker's attitude. "And Captain Halloway?"

"All of you held your current positions in my former reality. But I never knew of a Captain Halloway in Starfleet."

"Captain." Worf's attitude was almost deferential since he beheld the heart of an honorable warrior in this Picard, which was something that he'd never quite identified in Halloway. "Sir. How did this happen? Who did this to you?"

"Was it a temporal shift? A black hole?" Data had many possible theories and he would have listed all of them if Picard hadn't silenced him with a stern look.

Picard mentally sighed. He had been hoping to avoid mentioning Q. "Mr. Data, access your records for the history of Trelane, the Squire of Gothos."

"Trelane was an omnipotent non-corporeal being who took human form in order to plague Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the USS Enterprise 1701, Stardate 2124.5"

"Correct, Mr. Data. Unfortunately, as Captain Picard, I have my own version of an omnipotent being who calls himself Q of the Continuum. Q may be related to Trelane. They both seem to view the captain and the crew of the Enterprise as their playmates, and consider this ship to be their own personal playground. Or laboratory. I've never been sure just exactly which is it. Q created the reality shift that affected my life."

"Continuum of what?" Data had questions. Lots of questions.

"I don't have the answer to your questions, Data. All I know is that in this reality, almost everything that Q induced in my reality has happened the way that it should - except for Q revealing his presence to you." Picard shook his head. "I have been extensively studying the logs of your Enterprise, trying to discover the major differences between my two histories. Though there are some changes, your lack of Q is the most notable."

"There must be other differences, Captain Picard," Data observed.

"There are." But Picard chose not to elaborate. "Mr. Data, I am a lieutenant on board the Enterprise. Please do not unofficially change my rank. If I choose to stay here for the rest of my life, I will have to live within the framework of this reality, and not that of my former position."

Data nodded. "I agree. It would be unwise for this ship to have two captains aboard her."

"And what about his command codes, Data?" Riker asked, still not completely accepting everything that this lieutenant had revealed.

"After Counselor Troi is safely returned, you may cancel my authorizations, Commander Riker."

Beverly wasn't paying any attention to them. Instead, she was focusing upon something that Jean-Luc had just said. She grabbed his arm, drawing his attention back to her. "What do you mean, if you choose to stay?"

Ignoring the others, Picard clasped her hand. She clutched it. "Beverly, Q has offered me a chance to return. I am considering accepting his proposal."

"I don't understand." Her aquamarine blue eyes started to fill with tears. "Why can't things stay the way they are?"

Data asked, "Lieutenant, what will happen to you if you revert to being Captain Picard again?"

"I will die, Mr. Data."

"Oh, really? How?" Riker still was a disbeliever.

"I was negotiating with the Lenarian mission on their planet when their dissidents shot me with compressed teryon beam weapons. I was beamed up to Sickbay where, according to Q, I died. I do not know of my future from that point onward."

"Compressed teryon beam injuries should not have been fatal," Beverly whispered, trying to think logically.

"Ordinarily, they wouldn't be. However, as Captain Picard, I had a parthenogenic implant - a bionic heart. The beams fused that heart, and there was no way that it could be replaced in time. With a human heart, I would have survived."

"Then you will die if you return," Data stated. "Why would you wish to return?"

"Yes, why do you want to leave me, Jean-Luc?" Beverly could barely control her distress.

"Because he would die an honorable death as the captain of the Enterprise." Worf had thought that this explanation would be obvious to everyone.

"You will stay here, Jean-Luc," Beverly ordered. "I will not let you go back."

"Interesting." Data considered Picard's revelations.

"Don't tell me that you believe any of this, Mr. Data?" argued Riker. "Picard's not going back. There is nothing to go back to! He's just trying to get us involved in some crazy-assed demented plan."

"Commander," Data mused. "If Captain Picard returns to die, would that not be in your best interest? It would make you the new captain of the Enterprise."

"Data, use that positronic brain of yours and think!" Will ordered.

"Yes, sir." He blinked and then he turned to face Beverly. "There is something else to consider if what Mr. Picard has said is correct about the Lenarian delegation," Data announced. When he had their attention, he continued. "Am I not correct, Doctor Crusher?"

Beverly blankly stared at Data until she became a doctor again. She now understood what Mr. Data meant. "Captain Halloway - he has an artificial heart, too."

"Either way, Commander Riker, after the Lenarian incident, you could be the new captain of the Enterprise," Data concluded.

"That is if Starfleet agrees." Geordi finally said something.

Will stared at his friend. "And you go along with all of this?"

Geordi nervously fiddled with his visor before speaking. "Well, I am not saying that I believe everything that you've said, Mr. Picard. But can we afford not to believe that it is true? It is Deanna's life that's at stake. And I sure don't want to leave Counselor Troi's fate to the tender mercies of the Tal Shiar."

Riker could not argue with that.

=/\= ='/\'= =/\=

"What aren't you telling me?" Beverly didn't want to sound like an accusatory harpy, but the way that Jean-Luc had been behaving lately, had fueled her suspicions. "You keep looking about in the corners for something. What?"

"Q," he wearily admitted. "I keep expecting him to come back for me."

She thought about all that had happened over the past few days. The events had taken quite a bit of daring and prevaricating, but Deanna was now safe. And so were the three Romulan defectors. Oddly enough, everything that had occurred with the war bird had happened when Data or Riker had sat in the center chair on the bridge. And though Halloway must have had some suspicions, he had not give formal voice to them to his senior officers. For Halloway got the glory of the rescues.

And now, to make matters just absolute perfect, Beverly had to worry about an invisible jinn popping up at inconvenient times.

Jean-Luc did not speak as he put aside the Dixon Hill novel that he been rereading. He watched her starting to undress. He was thrilled to even have the simple pleasure of being able to just watch Beverly.

And then Beverly stopped. She stood by the foot of the bed, with her discarded lab coat floating in mid air. She did not move.


Q appeared, hovering next to Beverly. "Hmm. It appears that I've arrived to early. A few minutes later this scene could have been far more entertaining."

Suspecting that Q was trying to bait him, Jean-Luc stood and drew his robe about him in his usual sang-froid manner. "You have come for my decision?"

"Of course not, mon capitaine. I already know what it is."

Jean-Luc swiftly walked over to Beverly, cupped her cheek with the palm of his hand for a moment, and then pivoted to curtly nod at Q. "Get on with it."

"Done, mon ami!" With a snap of his fingers, Picard suddenly found himself dressed in a uniform - a red command officer's Starfleet uniform, instead of blue. He felt his collar but only counted two pips.


"You are now Lieutenant Jean-Luc Picard, senior grade. Enjoy the promotion!"

"I will not permit this."

"Oh, you are such a dullard. I've often questioned whether or not Beverly had any functioning brain cells, but now that the two of you are dancing the rumpy pumpy, I have confirmed my suspicions about the lady's intelligence." Q picked up Jean-Luc's mystery novel. "You are such a predictable, dreary little man." He dropped the book onto the deck. "Just like your job. Playing swabbie to that overgrown tin toy. Or chauffeuring about Riker. How can you stand the tedium of making reports to that overweight cub scout?" Q glared at a wall and suddenly the stars could be seen whooshing by. "You should be soaring with me, mon capitaine. Not mucking about in your bureaucratic stable." Q leered over at Jean-Luc. "Want me to liven things up around here?"

"No." Jean-Luc started to remove his pips.

"Dull as dishwater, that's what you are. And one of these days you must explain to me what that wonderful-sounding phrase means, Jean-Luc." He watched as Picard dropped a shiny pip. "Oh, don't be such a predictable disappointment, Jean-Luc. Keep the pips. They are yours. Don't you deserve to accept a promotion that the heart-less Picard took only a few months to achieve, instead of the may years that your gut-less self needed?" Seeing the storm clouds forming on Jean-Luc's horizon, fearing that he was about to be on the receiving end of one of Picard's more vitriolic lectures, Q hastily added, "Oh, the promotion is with the permission of your jolly good captain, Jean-Luc. Enjoy serving under that man thinking of all of the things that you'd do differently if you were the captain - in another lifetime!"

"Q!" roared Picard. "I must go back!"

"And I have other thing that I must do!"

Q disappeared. Even the wall changed back to its grey solidity.

"Q!" Picard had reached the end of his patience. And gone beyond it.

Q's voice reverberated about the small room. "I shall think about it. Ta-ta!"

=/\= ='/\'= =/\=

Beverly was angry. Jean-Luc could tell that by the way she was slamming things into the drawers that she had permanently appropriated in his quarters. He wanted to ask her why, but she also currently wasn't speaking to him.

Sighing, he picked up his padd and read the Lenarian mission outline that Data had given to him. Picard had also discovered that for some reason, even though Deanna had safely returned to the ship, Riker had yet to cancel his captain's command codes. And Data was still supplying the captain who was now a lieutenant, with all sorts of unexpected information.

Now, Jean-Luc had to worry about unwittingly undermining the authority of the Enterprise's current captain by his very presence on board this ship. So he had unwisely mentioned to Beverly the possibility of requesting a transfer after the Lenarian mission. Beverly had not responded too well to this suggestion.

"We have to talk."

Beverly whirled about, her clenched fists resting on her hips as she glared at him. "I wanted to talk - yesterday!" She waved one hand about. "But… your meddling monster of a friend stopped by, didn't he?"

"You know about Q's visit?"

"I may have been frozen stiff, but my ears worked just fine!" She stomped closer to him. "You don't have to leave! You want to leave!"

"Beverly… I will never want to leave you." He reached over and grabbed her wrist, tugging her down onto the bed next to him. "I must leave. Someday." He proffered her a smile that held just a hint of deviltry. "But not just now…"

And with that he proceeded to make love to her with a depth of passion that surprised even himself.

A long time later, she maneuvered his body slightly so that she was more comfortable stretching out beneath him. He was resting his head on her breasts, gently toying with them. She did not mind his actions one little bit.

"You don't play fair, Jean-Luc."

"Never, when it comes to you, my love."

"So, tell me what it is that you don't really want to tell me."

He lifted his head, shifting slightly so that he could look upon her face. "What makes you think…"

"Was she a better lover than me?"


"The other Beverly. Is she the reason why you want to go back? To her?"

"Ah, the other Beverly." Chuckling, inordinately pleased that she cared enough to be jealous over him, he sat up, placing his arm about her shoulders so that he could hold her even closer. "That dancing doctor was all fire and ice, grace and compassion. She badgered me, bothered me, bedeviled me. And tempted me. She knew me better than I knew myself."

Beverly heard his words, but she was more worried about how he had known that she was a dancing doctor. "You know about my dancing?"

"Jack used to boast about your prowess." He placed a light kiss against her brow. "That Beverly, she was my friend. I loved her dearly for she was also you." Gently, he brushed his thumb against her lips, pleased with the way that she trembled beneath his touch. "But, I was also Dr. Beverly Crusher's commanding officer. That fact has never changed from the beginning when I was the captain of the Stargazer. I brought Jack's body back home to you."

And Beverly understood. "Did this other Beverly blame you for Jack's death?"

"No. At least she never did once she became my CMO."

"Then, neither shall I." But there was something else hidden in his expression. "I don't believe it. You never made love to her, did you?"

"I couldn't. There was too much between us."

"Risa never happened?"

"Not… with you, Beverly." He had the grace to seem a little embarrassed.

"I don't quite believe you, Jean-Luc. For even though our pasts are different, I know that the other Beverly must have been in love with you too."

"Our feelings for each other were beside the point."

For a while she was silent. Then she confessed, "After Jack died, I vowed to never become involved with a command officer again. So, I can understand that other Beverly's position. Her hesitation at becoming your lover."

"Well, I am not exactly a command officer now, Beverly. And perhaps, I never will be again."

"Well, Deanna Troi had quite a lot to say about your commanding attitude. That's what clued her into the fact that you were different. The pips on your collar may have changed, but the man that you now are did not."

"Yet, you were lovers with Lieutenant Picard."

"You're not that different, Jean-Luc." She stroked her hands intimately over his body for a few moment, as if she needed the tactile reassurance that he was still there in her bed. "I loved to listen to you talk about everything and anything. Especially where you were working on your archaeology papers."

"Archaeology papers?"

"You've been corresponding with your friend, Professor Galen, for years. Your last serious study was your work about Tagus." She reached over and caressed his cheek. "I could talk to that Lieutenant Picard. He listened to me. We used to spend hours discussing everything from Shakespeare to Diomedian scarlet moss."

"Then, am I that different?"

"Off duty? No."

He waited for her to continued. And when she didn't he had to say it. "Damned by what you don't say, Beverly. In my mind, I will always be a captain, regardless of what my official rank may be."

She stiffened, suddenly afraid. "Then what is it? Why isn't my loving you enough? Why do you still feel compelled to go back to nothing when you know that you can make a good life for yourself here?"

With a sudden, almost desperate movement, he rolled on top of her, bracing himself on his forearms, looking at her with such an intensity, it was as if he needed to compel by the sheer force of his need, the very truth of her feelings from his heart.

"You love me?"

Reaching up, she caressed his face, smiling even though tears were impending to gather. "I love you, Jean-Luc. And, damn you, I have a feeling that I always will." She twined her arms about his shoulders, pulling him closer. And then she kissed him for a very long time before she asked, "So, tell me the rest of it. Why must you go back?"

"Your French lieutenant desires to stay here with you, Beverly. But in my heart, I am a starship captain. That will never change." He kissed her. And one kiss became another. It wasn't until it was almost time for their duty shifts to begin before Jean-Luc continued their conversation.

"There is one other thing."

"I know there is, my love."

She sadly smiled, knowing that whatever it was that he had to tell her, was that which troubled his innermost soul.


This was not the explanation that she was expecting. Tensing, she insisted, "What? What about Wesley? Isn't he all right in your… whatever?"

"Hush, my love. It isn't what you think. It is just that in my reality, Wesley is still at the Academy."

"It is taking my son five years to graduate?" But she started to relax in his arms as she considered his words. This was not a problem.

"Not precisely. Wesley didn't get to the Academy until two years ago. Up until then, he was a field commissioned ensign on board my ship."

"Well, that does sound more like Wesley." She made a relieved sound. "Then in you reality they didn't damn him for having been Locutus?"

"Beverly…" He took a deep breath. "I was Locutus in my reality. Not Wesley."

Her confidence in her reality shattered. "No."

He barely heard her. "If I go back, at least Wesley will be spared that pain. For he was a fine young man in my past. Just like he is here. But no one, especially a boy who is just beginning the journey of his life, should have to possess the burden of guilt and misery that being Locutus of Borg entails."

"No, Jean-Luc. I will not let you leave me." She understood everything about him now. And she would not let him sacrifice himself. "Wesley survived. And he will be all right, even it if does mean that he won't be a Starfleet officer for a while."

He was touched beyond measure by her support and concern. She was everything and more that he had ever dreamed.

"Beverly, this discussion may be moot. Q will be the one who decides whether or not I become a Starfleet captain again. But if it is any comfort to you, then know this: I have no desire to leave you. Ever."

His comm badge beeped. "Lieutenant Picard, report to Transporter Room Four in five minutes."

"Damn. I forgot." He got dressed and was about to leave when he stopped and grinned at Beverly. "You know, Beverly, this is the first time that I have ever been distracted from doing my duty on board the Enterprise. You…" He leaned over and kissed her lips, passion briefly resurging for a moment. "…are my temptress. Forever." And with a final kiss, he swiftly left.

A few minutes later, Mr. Data paged Beverly reminding her to have Sickbay ready just in case something untoward did happen during the Lenarian mission.

An hour passed. Then Captain Halloway came into Sickbay, carrying a dying Lieutenant Picard in his arms. Worf and Data followed.

"Jean-Luc!" Beverly gasped, even as she became the prototypic physician. "What happened?" she directed of Halloway, even as she began to tend to her lover.

"The damned fool threw himself in front of me when that Lenarian tried to shoot me!" Halloway explained, even as he watched Beverly work. "He saved my life, the idiot. Now, you'd better save his, Beverly Crusher, if you want to keep your captain happy. Not to mention yourself." Halloway stepped out of the way so that Beverly and her staff could work.

Beverly barely registered that Tom Halloway seemed to know about her relationship with Jean-Luc. Instead, she was frantically working, doing her best to save a life.

Riker knelt down next to the bed, by the immobile form of Jean-Luc Picard. "You've got to save his life, Beverly." And then speaking so softly that only Beverly, Data and Worf heard him, Riker whispered, "Jean-Luc was telling the truth, Beverly. About everything. He was right." He looked up at them. "Everything happened the way that he said it would."

Warning bells chimed.

"He's going into cardiac arrest," a frenzied Beverly yelled to her staff.

=/\= ='/\'= =/\=

He stood there, disoriented, almost blinded. He heard the familiar sounds of battling Nausicaans snorting, took a deep breath of smoke and salt-flavored atmosphere that he well remembered, and then he knew where he was…

=/\= ='/\'= =/\=

Even as he found the strength to open up his eyes, he was still laughing. He couldn't help it. He knew that he was in Sickbay. And that it was his Beverly who was leaning over him, trying to get him to respond. In the background he heard the ordinary sounds of the room. Then someone yelled Captain Picard!

He opened his eyes. "Je t'aime…" he whispered. He laughed again as Beverly hovered, sensing her concern. Lucky to feel it. Lucky to be alive.

Beverly expelled a great sigh of relief, not really paying attention to his words as she double checked all medical readings. And then she declared, "Thank God. He's going to be all right."

Vowing to one day repeat those words of love to Beverly when she wasn't so distracted by having to save his life, and when the time was right between them, Picard dreamily rested, happy to be merely listening to her voice. Memories of Beverly sleeping in his bed caused a slight smile to cross over his lips.

As he drifted, he mentally decided to maybe even spin a suitably edited tall tale or two of his adventures to his Number One, some time in the near future. He briefly thought about meeting this reality's Ensign Robin Lefler again, and seeing if she was as worthy of a promotion as was her alternate. He momentarily considered the awful possibility that he was in Q's debt. And he knew that he would have to speak to Counselor Troi quite soon.

A sense of exhaustion washed over him. And as Beverly's cool hand trembled against his forehead as she checked his temperature again, Jean-Luc Picard decided that all was now right with his world.

The true captain of the Enterprise then closed his eyes and promptly fell asleep.

The End.

A.N.: Slightly revised, 03/22/2013. A sequel is posted: A Less Dreary Man in a Tedious Job! And the will be more stories in this series. In these sequels, however, Jean-Luc Picard is still Lieutenant Picard, for quite a few people have encouraged me to play some more in this particular a/u. And as near as I can tell, I'm the only one doing so.

As always, your comments and criticisms are appreciated. Your words of encouragement keep writers writing!