Father of the Man

Author's Note: This story was first published in 1993 in the fanzine Involution 4.

Disclaimer: The crew of the Enterprise doesn't belong to me.

The grey silk pajamas hung loosely about his shoulders, the sleeves billowing around his arms. For the third time since he'd put them on, he tightened the drawstring at his waist, retied the shorts to keep them from slipping down his slim hips. "I should just get the replicator to issue a pair that actually fits," he muttered. But they wouldn't be mine. Not really.

Absently, he rubbed his hand over the smooth silkiness that covered his chest. The texture of the material was soft, comforting... familiar. That's why he was wearing them. They're familiar.

He sighed exhaustively and stared at his reflection in the mirror. He couldn't honestly say that the image staring back at him was altogether unfamiliar. He had been twelve once, give or take forty years, and he had looked like this, very much like his nephew. Even though he'd thought Rene resembled Robert as a boy, his brother had disagreed. And his words echoed in his mind. "Looks more like you every day," he'd grumbled, doing his best to hide a bemused grin. "Damned aggravating sometimes." Picard had laughed at him then, but he wasn't laughing now. Truth be told, he was just too tired to laugh.

Suppressing a yawn, he closed his eyes and leaned forward, rested his forehead against the mirror's cool surface.

"I thought you were supposed to be sleeping."

His eyes flew open. Beverly Crusher's reflection gazed at him from over his shoulder. The fact that she was normally a bit taller than he paled in the now preposterous discrepancy between their heights. He shook his head at the absurdity. "And I thought you were supposed to knock." He turned toward her. "Or at least ring the door chime."

She crossed her arms in front of her, leaned against the doorframe, unconsciously making herself smaller. Or perhaps she was doing it on purpose. "I didn't want to wake you. I see now I needn't have worried."

"No, Doctor, you needn't have," Picard said curtly, trying to sound authoritative.

The attempt was ineffectual. The words were his, even the inflection, but the voice brought an image of a choir boy to Crusher's mind: a once clear soprano starting to crack, an adolescent on the brink. She smiled.

Picard scowled at the look on her face. He was getting overly tired of the amused expressions of his crew, was beginning to feel more like the ship's mascot than her captain. With an exhausted shake of his head, he brushed past Crusher and crossed to the other side of the room, one hand at his waist keeping the still loose shorts from falling down around his ankles.

Crusher stifled a laugh, resisted the impulse to suggest he change his pajamas. Get a pair that fit. Perhaps something with antique fire engines on them. Her smile broadened at the mental picture her thoughts evoked.

"Tea, Earl Grey, hot," Picard instructed the food dispenser. Then, picking up the cup that appeared, he turned around. Crusher was there, standing over him, hovering like a mother hen. He stopped in mid-stride, hot tea sloshing over the cup's rim, burning his hand. "Beverly," he grimaced.

She took a step back, gave him some space, although it wasn't enough to his liking. "You need your rest, young man," she said lightly, and yet there was that edge in her voice, that tone he dreaded.

He stepped around her, walked over to the couch and sat down. He didn't need this. Not now. Not her coddling. Under the circumstances, it was worse somehow. More... ludicrous. He already felt somewhat embarrassed at her seeing him in his pajamas. The fact that she was his doctor, and had seen him clothed in less, seemed to make no difference. It was the principle of the matter. Sort of an unwritten law in his own personal code of ethics. A captain should never be seen in his pajamas. Of course, there was an emergency clause permitting robes. But he'd tried his on already; the damn thing had swallowed him.

Wearily, he looked back up at the doctor. "Beverly, please, do not allow my appearance to bring out your maternal instincts."

She smiled and shook her head. "I'm a doctor, Jean-Luc. And a mother. It doesn't take much to bring out my maternal instincts."

"I know." He frowned slightly, recalling some of their past medical confrontations. Stubborn, overly concerned, and smothering were just a few of the adjectives that came to mind. Then, remembering the cup in his hand, he took a sip of his tea, stared down at it for a moment, looked up with a blink of his eyes in sudden realization. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "I didn't offer you anything to drink."

She shrugged. "That's all right. I wasn't sure you wanted me to stay."

"I do," he responded quickly, instantly surprised by his reaction. And yet, he did want her to stay. "I know you'd like me to rest, but I..." He looked back down at the cup he held. "I don't think I can right now, and I..." he swallowed nervously, "could use some company."

Crusher went and sat beside him, hesitantly placed her hand on his thin shoulder. "I'm here, Jean-Luc."

She felt him begin to tremble, and the cup rattled in its saucer. Reaching over, she wrapped her fingers around his, steadied his grasp, her own hands covering his completely, something she'd never thought possible with Picard's large hands. But they were small now, cold and shaking, despite the warmth of the tea cup. "I'm here," she said again. "I'm not going anywhere."

He nodded, drew in a deep breath, let it out slowly. "I can't help thinking..." He raised his eyes to her, their familiar hazel-green depths clouded with sudden tears. "What if... What if it doesn't work?"

Crusher drew one of her hands away from his, ran it along his back. "It's going to work, Jean-Luc."

"But what if it doesn't?" he asked again, his voice hardening as much as it possibly could.

She sighed, her hand tightening around his. A large part of her wanted to take him in her arms, cradle him against her shoulder, whisper "there, there" into his ear. But he wanted an honest answer, and she gave him the only one she could. "I don't know."

Picard was silent for a moment, then he leaned back against the cushions, allowed her to take the cup from his clenched fingers. She set it on the coffee table.

"I didn't like being twelve," he murmured, his head tilted, his eyes focused on the ceiling. "And as I recall, thirteen wasn't too much fun either." He gave a tired laugh. "Doesn't give me much to look forward to, does it?"

"I really don't think you're going to have to worry about it."

He ran his hands over his head, a familiar habit, only now his fingers raked through the thick chestnut brown hair. "I can't get used to this," he sighed.

Crusher reached out, brushed her hand over his hair. "Enjoy it, Jean-Luc. After tomorrow it won't be there anymore."

He lowered his gaze and looked at her, doubt and hope intermingled in his eyes. "You're so sure about this transporter idea, aren't you?"

"Yes," she said firmly.

"Then why don't we go ahead with it right now?" he responded eagerly.

"I thought I explained that." Her hand slid from his hair to his cheek, caressed it softly. "You all need rest, Jean-Luc. Not just you. Keiko, Ro, Guinan. You've all been through a lot today. We all have. It will be better if we wait until tomorrow."

As if on cue, he suddenly yawned involuntarily. Damn it, why is she always right? "I am tired," he admitted.

"I thought so." She took hold of his hand and stood up. "Ready for bed?"

"What?" He stared at her warily. "Are you planning on tucking me in?" The very concept was ridiculous. And yet...

Crusher smiled. "I thought I might. Any objections?"

"Well, actually... no."

He rose from the couch and allowed her to walk him into the next room. She turned back the covers on his bed, and he slid under them.

"Would you like a bedtime story?" she asked, a hint of a smile turning the corners of her lips.

"Beverly," he groaned, "this is not funny."

"I'm sorry," she apologized, trying not to notice how utterly small and vulnerable he looked lying in the middle of the bed, his body barely outlined under the blankets.

Ignoring her overly protective gaze, Picard adjusted the pillows behind his back, pulled the covers neatly around him, folding the sheet back just so. "I'm sure when Wesley was this age you didn't tell him stories before bed."

Crusher shook her head, and sat down on the edge of the bed beside him. "No... but sometimes I wanted to." She sighed. "It's not easy watching your child grow up. Everything happens so fast."

"Well, growing up can't happen fast enough for me." Even at this age, his dimpled chin set hard in determination. And yet, there was a softness there. A look that years of living had erased from Jean-Luc Picard's adult features

She touched the strands of hair that fell across his forehead. "You know, Wesley's hair is this color." Somehow she'd forgotten the original shade of Picard's hair. It'd been brown when she'd first known him. And there had been more of it.

Picard smiled faintly at her. "I hadn't thought about it, but you're right." The color of Wesley's... and Jack's. He winced at the memory.

If Crusher noticed the pained expression on his face, she didn't question it. "Tell me, Jean-Luc, what were you like at this age?" she asked instead.

"I... I can't remember," he stammered.

"Of course you can," she insisted.

"No, really I..." The look on his face softened. He didn't want to lie to her. Not Beverly. "I spent most of my time studying," he answered truthfully. "I guess I didn't have much of a childhood."

Crusher nodded, rubbed her hand along his arm. "You know, we don't have to try this transporter idea tomorrow. I mean, we could put it off for a couple of days. Give you a chance to relive those lost days of youth, explore some holodeck wilderness, play cowboys and Indians."

Picard flashed his eyes at her. "Beverly..."

"I'm just kidding, Jean-Luc." She laughed softly. "I can't even kid a kid."

The look he gave her could have frozen all the oceans on Earth and melted icebergs at the same time.

"Sorry. Again." She reached out and held her hand to his forehead, as if checking for a fever.

He groaned slightly, pushed her hand away. "I'm not sick."

"Habit. When Wesley was this age, he had a lot of colds. Stayed home from school. I had to stay with him." She smiled, remembering. "We would talk all afternoon long. About starships, and space, and..." Her voice trailed off.

"And?" Picard lowered his gaze when he suddenly realized what she was thinking. What we've both been thinking. "And Jack."

"And you." She took hold of his hand. He didn't pull away. "Wesley may not have cared much for bedtime stories, but he loved to hear stories about you and Jack. He never grew tired of listening. And when I ran out of true stories to tell, he wanted me to make them up." She hesitated, stared at Picard as if she could see into his soul. And perhaps she could. "He never blamed you, Jean-Luc. And neither did I. I know that all these years you've blamed yourself." She reached out with her other hand, touched his chin, raised his face to hers. The features were different, but the eyes were the same. "Stop. All right?"

He drew in a ragged breath, not quite believing what he was hearing. They'd never really talked about this. Not once in fifteen years. They'd alluded to it. Finally talked of Jack's death. But the question of blame had never been answered, or posed, or even considered. At least not out loud. Why now? But he didn't ask. He just nodded. "I'll try," he murmured.

"Good." Crusher leaned over and kissed him on the forehead, held her cheek against his hair for a moment. "I love you, Jean-Luc," she whispered.

He wasn't sure of what to say, and so he said nothing. The tense silence between them grew until it was suddenly broken by the sound of the door chime. Crusher stood up quickly, releasing his hand.

Picard pushed himself further up in bed. "Uh... Come."

The door slid open, and Will Riker appeared. "I hope I'm not disturbing you, sir." He stepped inside, stood in the doorway of the captain's bedroom.

"No, not at all." He smiled, slightly embarrassed. "Doctor Crusher was just... tucking me in."

Riker fixed the doctor with a possessive look. "You're not trying to take over my job, are you?" he said, his tone serious. "After all, he is my son."

Picard groaned. Enough is enough.

"I'm sorry, Will," Crusher replied. "I didn't mean to interfere in family matters." She headed toward the door, gave him a sideways glance. "Oh, by the way, I get ten credits an hour for babysitting."

"Out," Picard ordered.

Riker smiled. "Sorry. Just came by to say goodnight."

"Thank you. Goodnight."

Riker started to back out of the room. "Could I get you anything before I leave? Glass of milk? A night-light? I could read a story."

"I already offered," Crusher laughed.

"Out!"

They disappeared in an instant, and the door slid closed behind them. Picard fell back into his pillows, exhausted. He stared out the viewport above him, trying to draw strength from the familiar stars that streaked overhead. Despite all the worries and cares of the day, all the teasing and concern, all the unbidden memories, all the apprehension of tomorrow, the only thing he could think of were the words Beverly Crusher had whispered. They repeated themselves over and over in his mind as he fell into a restless sleep. I love you, Jean-Luc. I love you.

~vVv~