Author's Note: Thanks for reading and reviewing!
Everything did indeed seem smaller: the bridge, his ready room, his model of the Stargazer, the lion fish in his aquarium. Even his first officer. His Number One Dad, he remembered with a shake of his head and a soft chuckle. He would never forget the look on Will Riker's face when he'd thrown his arms around him in the observation lounge, the man's apparent certainty that his captain had completely lost his mind. Picard laughed out loud again.
"Sir." Riker was sitting beside him now, in his customary chair. He leaned toward Picard, his voice low. "I hate to remind you of this, since you seem to be in such a good mood, but Doctor Crusher insisted that I send you back to your quarters after you'd been here a half hour."
Picard sighed, the smile disappearing from his face. Mother hens, all of them. All still singing the same old song: "You've been through a lot, Captain. You need your rest." But he had promised Beverly Crusher he'd get some sleep after checking on the bridge. He glanced over at Riker. "Very well, Commander." He pushed himself to his feet, trying to suppress a yawn. "Take care of things."
Riker nodded. "Always, sir." And he watched, with a sense of almost fatherly pride, as Jean-Luc Picard went off to bed.
It had been a long time since anyone had ordered him to take a nap, but his Chief Medical Officer had, and he'd have had a hell of a difficult time getting out of it. Especially since she was right. As usual. He was still a bit tired, and not up to an argument. At least, not with Beverly Crusher.
Now, actually looking forward to an afternoon's rest, he pulled on his grey pajamas, looked into the mirror, was relieved to see himself staring back. He ran his hand over his head, just as he'd done when he'd stepped off the transporter earlier in the morning. Smooth skin, soft fringe of hair. Familiar. Perhaps tomorrow he would miss the shag of brown locks, but not today. He tugged at his pajamas, straightened them, smoothed the sleeves over his arms, and frowned. They fit. And yet, they didn't feel right. It wasn't anything specific, just a vague feeling of... Nothing. I'm tired. That's all.
He lay down on his bed, pulled up the blankets, shifted uncomfortably, rolled over, stretched, pushed at his pillow, flipped it over, closed his eyes, opened them, and sighed. The bed was too small. Ridiculous. He was too big. Absolutely ridiculous. For some reason, the image of Goldilocks in the three bears' house drifted through his mind. Nothing felt right. He rolled back over and stared out the viewport above him. Even the stars weren't as big, or as bright as he remembered. As a boy, he'd lain in the soft grass of his backyard and studied the night sky for hours. The stars were closer now, still just as beautiful and mysterious as always, but... I love you, Jean-Luc. The words came out of nowhere. No. They'd been at the edges of his consciousness all day, and he'd ignored them.
He'd sat in Sickbay as Crusher examined him, his eyes avoiding her, flinching at her touch. Every look, every comment, every nuance of her behavior set him on edge, made him uncomfortable, made him wonder. The words. Surely he'd heard them before. Surely she'd said them. All those nights she'd held him in Sickbay after his encounter with the Borg. Hadn't she said them then? I love you, Jean-Luc. Of course, she loved him. He loved her. They were friends. Good friends. They had been for a long time. Damn it. Why were those words bothering him now?
"You're not going to get any answers from the stars," he mumbled out loud to himself. Only Beverly has the answers. The questions.
He kicked off the covers and rolled out of bed. Even as a child, he'd never liked taking naps.
True. Everything seemed smaller. Everything except for the door to Beverly Crusher's cabin. That seemed insuperable, formidable. Downright huge and frightening. His hand hovered uncertainly over the door chime. Coward. He drew his hand away. What if I am? He sighed. Then you'll never know. What was there to know? What?
Suddenly, the door slid open in front of him.
"Jean-Luc?" Crusher stood there, blinking at him in surprise. "I was just coming to look in on you. You're supposed to be resting."
"I am... I mean, I was," he faltered, taking a step back.
"Are you all right?" The concern written across her face increased.
He took a deep breath. "I'm fine, Beverly."
She seemed to focus her gaze on him a little harder.
He lowered his eyes. "Really. I am."
She smiled, not quite believing his answer, but always willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Somehow, he looked smaller standing there in the corridor in his uniform than he had the night before in his much too large pajamas. "Won't you come in?"
"You came for a visit, didn't you?"
He nodded, somewhat reluctantly. "Yes. I did."
Crusher disappeared back into her quarters, trusting him to follow her, and he did, slowly, unsure. Scared, he admitted to himself. Of answers, feelings. The words.
"Have a seat." She gestured toward the couch. "I'll get us some tea."
He sat down, tentative, balancing himself on the edge of the cushions. He heard Crusher speak softly to the food dispenser. A few moments later, she joined him, settled on the couch next to him, so close her knee brushed against his. He moved slightly.
"Here." She placed a cup of tea in his hand. "Just the way you like it."
"Thank you." He avoided her eyes, took a long sip, willing the hot liquid to relax him, hoping she wouldn't notice his nervousness. No such luck.
"Jean-Luc. What's wrong?" Her voice was soft, concerned, gently probing.
He set his tea cup back in the saucer, rested it on his knee. He stared into it, watched as the steam curled and rose.
"Jean-Luc?" Her hand touched his shoulder, and he jumped involuntarily, caused the tea to spill over the rim, splash onto his uniform. He winced, although it hadn't burned.
"Are you all right?" She asked the question again, her tone more urgent.
"I'm... I'm confused." He raised his eyes to meet hers. They were concerned, honest, open eyes. Caring, trusting - the most beautiful blue he'd ever seen.
"About what? Being an adult again." She smiled gently. "You have skipped several developmental stages since this morning. If you have any questions, I'll be happy to try and answer them. And those that I can't, well, perhaps Will can. Having an older male as a role model is always helpful when a boy is growing into manhood."
Picard shook his head, too muddled to even be put off by her teasing. "No. I'm not confused about being an adult." Although being grown up made it all the more difficult. "I'm confused about... us," he said simply.
Crusher leaned over and set her own cup of tea on the coffee table. "I see."
Picard placed his tea cup beside hers, aware of how similar this moment was to last night. Only he was older now, bigger. Then why the hell do I feel so small? So... utterly out of control.
"Jean-Luc," her voice was calm, professional, "you've been through a lot in the past few days, and-"
"That's not it, Beverly," he cut her off. How he wanted to use that as an excuse. How easy it would have been to agree with her words and simply get up and leave. Go back to bed. Take the nap she'd insisted upon. But he wouldn't have slept. Couldn't have. There were the other words to deal with. "There was something you said last night."
She sighed. "If you're still upset because I was treating you like a child, I'm sorry. You were just so... cute. Do you know I've never seen pictures of you as a boy? Why not? Surely you have some. Even though you claim that you didn't enjoy your childhood, I really think-"
She drew in a quick breath, couldn't stop to think. "And I meant what I said, about Jack and Wesley. And me. We don't blame you, Jean-Luc. And I don't want you to blame yourself. I know it's difficult for us to talk about, but maybe we need to more often. Maybe we need-"
He grabbed hold of her hands, closed his fingers tightly around hers. "Will you just shut up? Please."
He was trembling, as he'd been trembling the night before. Only now it was worse. He wasn't a tired little boy, but he was just as unsure. Just as frightened. Of what? Crusher stared at him, silently, her own fear building.
"Last night... Last night, you said..." He sighed, let go of her hands, rubbed his fingers over his forehead, felt the tension behind his eyes. "Oh, hell. Last night, you said 'I love you, Jean-Luc.' What did you mean by that?"
Crusher stared down at her hands, rubbed them together. He'd held them so tightly they were tingling. "I meant... that I loved you."
She shook her head, confused, but not really. Afraid. "What do you mean? How?"
"How do you love me? As an old friend? Your captain? A fellow human being? Your patient?" The words tumbled out, each question building in intensity. The expression on his face was absolutely... terrified.
"Jean-Luc." She touched his cheek. He didn't move. Continued to stare at her. "We've known each other for a long time..."
"Old friends?" he breathed.
'Yes. Of course. But..."
"More than that?"
"We've been through more together than most old friends have. So, I..." She nodded. "Yes. More than that."
His hands took hold of hers again. This time his touch was soft, warm. "Do you want us to be... more than that?"
She stared at him for a moment, his feelings and emotions so plain on his usually inscrutable face. Suddenly frightened, sure of nothing, she pulled away from him, stood up and walked across the room. "I don't know. Jean-Luc, last night you were... twelve years old, thirteen at the most. I was able to see a part of you that I had never seen, would have never been able to see if not for the transporter malfunction. You weren't the captain; you weren't exactly the same person I've known for twenty years, but at the same time I... I did know you. I felt connected to you. I suppose I always have. Perhaps I said things that were easier said to a child."
"But still, you meant them?" Silently, he'd crossed over to her and was now standing behind her, so close she could feel the warmth of his breath on her neck.
She turned around, met his eyes, didn't look away. "Yes. I meant them."
Picard reached out, wrapped his arms around her, drew her close to him. "I love you, Beverly." And he stood there, holding her, reluctant to let go. She felt... familiar. Not too big, not too small. Just right.