She knew he was watching her – could almost feel the heat of his gaze, could definitely feel the concentration of his thoughts and emotions as she lay, still half asleep, in the early morning stillness of their bedroom. And then, when he ran his hand along her arm and down across her bare hip, she felt his desire and she opened her eyes, found his blue eyes staring back at her from where he lay beside her, on his side, left arm bent, head resting on his hand.
She sighed. "What are you doing?"
"Appreciating the view…" he grinned, "in all its honesty and purity."
And Deanna smiled at his words, reaching over to run her fingers over his bare chest. At least they were starting their wedding day in a traditional manner. "My mother would be so proud of us."
And Will's grin faded a bit. "Let's not talk about mothers right now," he whispered, leaning closer and touching his lips to hers.
Deanna eagerly responded, wrapping her arms around him and drawing him closer, feeling the familiar weight of him roll on to her. Will braced himself on his elbows, the kiss deepening for several long moments. Then he lowered his face to her neck, nuzzling gently against the soft skin. Deanna pressed her hands to his shoulders, holding him and remembering that first time, all those years ago on the mountain. And she giggled.
Will drew back. "Am I tickling you?" he grinned, liking the idea of it.
"No." Deanna reached up and traced her fingers along his face, over his cheek to the bearded point of his chin. "I was just thinking about our first time on the mountain."
And Will's grin broadened. "You were worried that Beverly and Jean-Luc would come back."
"And find us making love in the middle of camp! Of course, I was worried."
Will ran his hand through her hair, pushing back the soft strands from her face. "You were so beautiful – the firelight reflecting on your body. And the night… The night was almost as beautiful as you were."
Deanna sighed. "It was beautiful." She remembered holding Will in her arms and staring up over his shoulder at the stars that filled the dark sky. "But still… they could have come back at any moment."
"We've had this conversation before… They weren't coming back right away. They took a picnic dinner to the river, remember?"
And Deanna smiled. She remembered. She knew. But still, after all these years, she liked to tease him, liked to think that their first time had been daring and dangerous – the added fear and thrill of being discovered. When in reality, she felt sure that it had all been planned – not that Will or Jean-Luc had ever admitted to it. But that evening had, in some ways, been their wedding night.
From then on, they'd had their separate sides of their makeshift hut, each couple giving the other as much privacy as possible. She felt married to Will Riker, and she knew Beverly felt the same about Jean-Luc.
And today, they were going to make if official, in the eyes of Starfleet and their friends and family.
Will kissed her gently and brought her thoughts back to their present reality – a reality they passionately enjoyed for the next thirty minutes before the sounds of children drew them out of their bedroom.
But during that half hour, the firelight glowed on Deanna's skin, and the stars shone brightly over Will's shoulder.
The children had been fed, bathed, and dressed, and now they were lined up on the couch, waiting somewhat impatiently.
"Stop pulling at that shirt," Beverly warned, glancing over at Andrew.
"But it's too tight," he complained, still tugging at the collar of the cream-colored tunic.
"It is not," Beverly sighed. "Stand still," she instructed Jean-Luc who stood in front of her while she fastened the top clasp of his dress uniform.
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, and she held his chin still with one hand and smoothed out a wrinkle on his right shoulder with the other.
"You look very handsome," she smiled, giving him a light kiss on the lips
And the children giggled.
"Grandmother Lwaxana says you're not supposed to see each other before the wedding," Margaret said, shaking her head.
Beverly rolled her eyes at the idea. "Grandmother Lwaxana doesn't have three children and a husband who hasn't worn a dress uniform in over ten years."
"Besides," Jean-Luc grinned, walking over and sitting down next to the children, allowing Walker to climb onto his lap, "I would never consent to marry someone whom I'd never seen."
Margaret laughed and leaned her head against her father's shoulder, careful not to crush the tiny flowers that were entwined with her braid. "I don't think that's what she means," she explained with all the wisdom of a seven-year-old. "Just on the day of the wedding – you're not supposed to see each other."
"Well, it's too late now," Beverly answered with another sigh. "We've seen each other before breakfast, during breakfast, and after breakfast." She placed her hands on her hips and surveyed the room, looking to see if there was anything that she'd forgotten to do.
And Jean-Luc leaned back on the couch with a sigh of his own. "You can sit down now," he announced, gazing adoringly at his wife. She was beautiful in her gold taffeta dress, her hair pulled up softly, framing her face – breathtaking, if not a bit frazzled.
Beverly blinked at him. "What?"
"We're all dressed and accounted for and the ceremony doesn't start for another half hour. It will take us approximately five minutes to walk to Ten Forward, so I think you're safe to relax for twenty-five minutes."
She smiled at him, walked over, and sank onto the couch beside him. "I've been a little frantic, haven't I?"
Jean-Luc picked up her hand and squeezed it. "Just a bit. But you needn't worry. Everything will be perfect."
"Do we really have to sit here for twenty-five minutes?" Andrew questioned, still pulling at the neckline of his tunic.
"Yes," his parents chorused, and then laughed.
They were as ready as they'd ever be, Will decided transferring Lucy into Guinan's arms. They'd considered leaving her in the ship's nursery, but Deanna insisted that all the family should be present. And so Guinan had volunteered to hold her during the ceremony. They were gathered around the bar in Ten Forward, the children beside them. Sam and Thomas were showing Matilda how to drop flower petals from the basket she held.
Across the room, Lwaxana was directing last minute changes, checking with Data about the music, and talking to Geordi about the lighting.
Will leaned in close to Deanna and whispered in her ear. "You always were beautiful with one hip on a barstool."
And Deanna swatted at him playfully just as the doors to Ten Forward slid open and the Picard family entered.
Will glanced over at Jean-Luc and wondered if he were as uncomfortable in his dress uniform as Will was in his. It had been a long time since he'd worn something so formal. He noticed Andrew pulling at the collar of his tunic, and, like a yawn, it was catching. Will reached up and tugged at his uniform collar, only to receive a grimace from Beverly.
"Not you, too," she chided.
And Will grinned, pointing at his nephew. "He started it."
"And I'm going to finish it," Beverly promised with a lifted eyebrow and a stern look in Andrew's direction. "The next time I see either of you pulling on your clothing I'll take away dessert for three days."
Both Will and Andrew quickly pulled their hands behind their backs, exchanged worried expressions, and then burst into laughter.
"Mama, you can't take Uncle Will's dessert away," Andrew giggled.
"But I can," Deanna said with a serious look on her face.
And Will nodded. "She will, too."
Sam looked up from the floor where he was picking up flower petals. "Andrew, does Walker know how to carry the rings?"
Forgetting the offending collar, Andrew knelt down next to Sam and Thomas. "He's been practicin' in our cabin."
Margaret and Walker joined them. She held a little maroon pillow with a pocket sewn onto it. "The rings are in here," she said confidently, proud that her mother had entrusted her with carrying the precious cargo.
"I do it like this," Walker announced, taking the pillow from his sister. He balanced it between both hands, took a few steps across the room, and then turned back. "See, I don't drop it."
While the children were busy practicing and discussing their roles in the wedding ceremony, the adults were scanning the room, watching as the guests began arriving. Jean-Luc was waiting for one guest in particular.
Beverly reached out a hand and touched his arm. "You've already spoken to him. You said he seemed fine."
Jean-Luc nodded. "He did. Congratulated us both. Said he was looking forward to attending, but… still…"
Beverly's hand ran down his arm, took his hand in hers, squeezed it gently. "It'll be all right. It's been several years since…"
Jean-Luc drew his eyes away from the center of the room, looked back at Beverly, seeking shelter in her gaze, his mind finishing her unspoken thoughts… Several years since Locutus killed Benjamin Sisko's wife.
Of course, those weren't the exact words that Beverly was thinking, but it was what Jean-Luc couldn't help but think. He remembered the last time he'd met with Sisko, the barely bridled anger the man felt toward him. They'd parted on better terms, but still… Locutus had been directly responsible for the death of Jennifer Sisko. And Jean-Luc Picard still felt the weight of that squarely on his shoulders. Even after all these years.
He felt Beverly squeeze his hand again, and he pushed the memories back into a far corner of his mind. Today was not a day for regret. He took a deep breath and returned the hand squeeze. She was right. Everything would be fine. He had spoken to Sisko when they'd first arrived at the station. The man had greeted him cordially, asked about their extended stay on Earth, had truly seemed interested in their unique experience. He had congratulated them on the upcoming ceremony, and had graciously accepted the invitation to attend. Perhaps there had been a bit of tension between them, but not like before. Maybe time didn't heal all wounds, but time did help… time and the support of friends and family. He knew that Ben Sisko had a fine group of people working with him on the station, had his son, had close friends…
Three of whom came walking through the door right at that moment.
"Miles, Keiko," Beverly called, motioning toward them.
They came over with Molly between them, and they all exchanged hugs, made introductions.
"It's absolutely unbelievable, Beverly," Keiko shook her head as she watched Molly join in with the children as they sprinkled flower petals on the floor and then scooped them up, only to drop them all again.
"I know," Beverly smiled. "Molly and Walker are both the same age. But in our timeframe I feel like Molly should be fourteen instead of four. I think we'd all given up on the idea of returning, and then to come back with only two weeks having passed… Well, it's all a bit… surrealistic..."
"Well, we're all very glad that you returned!"
The voice came from over her shoulder, and Beverly turned to find Julian Bashir standing behind her.
"Julian!" she exclaimed, giving the younger man a welcoming hug. "I'm so glad you could be here. How long has it been?"
"For me or for you?" he grinned.
And Beverly laughed. "Well, it's been a long time for me, and not as long for you, but too long all the same."
"Doctor Bashir," Jean-Luc greeted, shaking the man's hand. "So glad you could be here."
"I'm very pleased to be here, Captain."
Jean-Luc's gaze reached past his shoulder. "Commander Sisko…"
"Should be here shortly. It's sometimes difficult to pry him away from the station." He exchanged a meaningful glance with the captain, knew the history, the lingering doubts, and he tried to allay those concerns. "He's been looking forward to being here," he said sincerely. "He's very happy for both of you."
Jean-Luc nodded, acknowledging the man's words, thanking him with a gentle smile and then the release of a long-held breath when he saw the doors slide open again and Benjamin Sisko stepping into the room.
He approached them with long, confident strides, holding his hand out. "Captain, Doctor, congratulations." He shook Jean-Luc's hand and then leaned over and kissed Beverly's cheek. Turning toward Will and Deanna, he repeated his greeting. "And to you Commander, Counselor." Another handshake, another kiss on the cheek.
"We're pleased that you could attend," Jean-Luc answered, his eyes saying even more than the simple words.
And they held each other's gaze for several long moments, something more passing between them…acceptance, healing…time.
"I'm glad to be here, Jean-Luc."
"Thank you… Ben."