The soft sounds of Pachelbel's Canon in D Major filled the room as the last guests crowded into Ten Forward, finding seats and exchanging muffled whispers. The chairs and tables had been arranged in order to create a central aisle ending at the raised area near the viewport where Lwaxana, Jean-Luc, Will, and the older boys were standing, framed against thousands of stars. They made quite a picture, Will thought as he scanned the people around him. Lwaxana, a proud peacock in chartreuse feathers, he and Jean-Luc in their dress uniforms, and the boys in cream-colored tunics with dark gray knee pants and high black boots – little miniature footmen he'd observed aloud when he'd seen them earlier in their cabin. That comment had earned him his first playful swat of the day, to which he'd replied, "I'm looking forward to more of those." And that had earned him his second. He smiled; Deanna Troi knew just how he liked to be handled.
The music shifted slightly, growing a bit louder, and he watched as Margaret and Matilda, in matching pink dresses, started down the aisle, the older girl holding the toddler's hand. With every step, Matilda dropped a fistful of flower petals, pausing for a moment to watch them drift onto the carpeted deck before moving forward and dropping another fistful. He could hear her gentle laughter and see her smile up at her cousin, enjoying the game.
Walker came behind them, head held high, pillow perfectly balanced on his hands in front of him. Another miniature footman, and Will grinned, casting his gaze toward Jean-Luc who smiled back at him, resting a hand on Andrew's shoulder as Will rested his on Sam and Thomas. They had a lot to be thankful for.
Leslie and Alyssa were next, followed closely by Deanna and Beverly who had chosen to walk down the aisle together. Will's grin broadened as he remembered Deanna's words from last week: No one's giving me away, Will. I gave myself to you a long time ago. And Beverly had agreed. Besides, no one can give any of us away. We already belong to each other. And she'd leaned over the dinner table and kissed Jean-Luc rather possessively, much to his chagrin and the children's delight.
But she was right. They belonged together. Each to the other, and one family to the next. And as they drew closer, Will felt the connection and saw the love in their eyes, Deanna's gaze locking onto his, and Beverly's seeking out Jean-Luc. He reached over and took Deanna's hand in his, as Jean-Luc reached for Beverly.
They turned to face Lwaxana, who gazed at them with a glistening of tears in her brown eyes. And he could almost hear Deanna's thoughts: Don't cry, Mother.
And to her credit, she didn't. Lwaxana Troi smiled at them, and, with a deep breath, she turned her gaze to the assembled crowd and began to speak, loud and strong.
"As Daughter of the Fifth House, Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx, and Heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed, it is my honor to be here today with Beverly and Jean-Luc, and Deanna and Will, to join them again in the holy bonds of matrimony." She blinked, and her voice softened. "But as mother, grandmother, and friend, it is my pleasure and joy." And the tears in her eyes spilled over onto her cheeks. "I am so happy for all of you, so grateful to have you here with us, and so pleased to bless this union that has already been so fully blessed." She smiled down at the children, and then back up to the guests, her fingers brushing at her cheeks. "As many of you know, I could go on and on, but our brides and grooms would like to share their own vows at this time."
Deanna turned to Will, taking his hands in hers, and began. "Will Riker, there are days when I know that I have loved you forever, and other days when I am sure that our love is as new as it was the first time I felt it. There are moments when I can't imagine a life without you, and others when I can't believe that you are here with me. And all those years that we have shared, and the time and worlds within them, are so very precious, and I want to share them with you and our children for always." She squeezed his hands. "I love you, Will."
Will looked down at Deanna's upturned face, saw his entire life within her dark eyes. "I love you, and I have always loved you. You and our children are my world, and all the time in between. I have always known that you would be my companion and my guide on the greatest adventure…our lives. I must admit that I never quite knew just how great and far-reaching that adventure would be, but I can't imagine anyone else beside me." He reached up and brushed a strand of hair back from her face. "I love you, Deanna. You are my heart, and my soul, and my life."
Beverly held Jean-Luc's hands and gazed up into the familiar warmth of his hazel eyes. "You have always been here for me, through so many years, so many… memories. You have been my captain, my confidant, my best friend… the father of our children… the man that I love. I can't imagine what my life would be like without you. To live every day, every moment, with you and our children is the greatest gift that I have ever been given." She traced her hand over his cheek, touched her fingers to the hairline at the back of his neck. "I love you, Jean-Luc Picard. I always have, and I always will."
Jean-Luc held his breath and Beverly's gaze for several long moments before he spoke. "I am at a disadvantage being the last to speak. Every thought… every emotion… has already been shared so perfectly and eloquently that whatever I have to add may be superfluous. But I shall try to say what is in my soul. I know that if this were years ago, I would not know where or how to begin. For a man who has spent his entire life meeting new species and negotiating peace treaties, I have often found myself at a loss for words when it came to matters of the heart. But time… precious time has passed, and in that time I have been given so much… the ability to love, and be loved. To let someone into my life and truly share each and every moment… To stand on a mountainside and watch the sun rise and set with you and our children… To be here, now, surrounded by family and friends… Precious time, precious moments… A precious life that I cannot imagine without you…" He sighed and pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead. "Beverly Howard Crusher, you are, and always shall be, the love of my life. I love you."
There was silence… a collective hold of a collective breath, and then Lwaxana's voice, laced with tears and reverence.
"By the powers given to me as Daughter of the Fifth House, Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx, and Heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed, I pronounce you husbands and wives." She blinked at Jean-Luc and Will. "And as your friend and mother-in-law, I give you permission to kiss your brides."
And since they knew better than to argue with Lwaxana Troi, they both followed her instructions, leaning toward their wives and kissing them as the music swelled and the room erupted in applause.
Afterwards, they danced with their wives, and then danced with each other's wives, and then danced with their children. And finally they stopped to have something to eat and drink and talk with friends and family.
"One of the best weddings I've been to in ages," Miles O'Brien claimed, taking a generous bite of wedding cake.
Keiko reached over and wiped a smudge of icing off his lower lip. "You say that after every wedding," she laughed, leaning over and giving him a quick kiss.
"I remember your wedding," Deanna smiled. "And I think Miles said the same thing."
Miles shook his head. "Oh, no, I couldn't have said that about my own wedding. I was as nervous as a cat in a rocking chair factory that day."
"He's right," Keiko grinned. "Don't you remember? He could barely talk. I was afraid he wouldn't be able to say 'I do.'"
"If I recall, he managed," Jean-Luc spoke up, having had the pleasure of officiating at their wedding.
Keiko looked across the room where Molly was playing with Margaret and Matilda. "And to think, we almost didn't have a wedding."
"Oh, we had no doubt that you would go through with it," Will said.
"With all that fussing and fighting, I guess we were already an old married couple!" Miles laughed, wrapping one arm around Keiko and pulling her close. "I'm just glad she didn't give up on me."
Keiko's gaze shifted to the stringed quartet where Data was playing his violin. "I'm afraid we put Data through a terrible ordeal during those few days."
Jean-Luc nodded. "He learned quite a lot about human nature and the desire to spend one's life with someone." He gazed across at Beverly, who returned his gaze and then smiled.
"He also learned to dance!"
"And he didn't step on my toes once!" Keiko laughed.
"Well, then, he's doing better than Will," Deanna teased, patting her husband on the shoulder.
Will rolled his eyes. "One misstep and I'll never hear the end of it," he groaned playfully.
Just then, Ben Sisko and Julian Bashir walked over. "It was a lovely ceremony," Sisko offered, smiling at the group of people. But Jean-Luc detected a somber note in his voice.
"Is everything all right?" he questioned.
"I'm afraid we've just received some serious news. A Bolian freighter has just docked at the station. They've experienced a severe engine room explosion – at least twelve casualties. We'll have to be going."
Beverly glanced at Selar, and then over at Julian. "Could you use some extra hands?"
Julian shook his head. "It's your wedding day. We'll be fine."
She nodded at the Vulcan doctor. "And it will still be my wedding day later tonight. Give me and Selar a few minutes, and we'll transport over to your sickbay."
"Take my word for it, Doctor," Jean-Luc sighed. "There's no use arguing with her once her mind is made up." He leaned over and kissed his wife.
"I'm sorry." She ran her hand along his cheek, even as she turned to leave. "You'll save me a piece of cake?"
"And a glass of champagne," he promised.
The children were already in bed and asleep when Beverly returned to their cabin late that night. Or early the next morning, depending on how you looked at it, for it was almost 0100. Jean-Luc was in bed as well, but still awake. And he'd left an ice bucket with a bottle of champagne and two glasses on the bedside table. But he could tell that celebrating their wedding day was the furthest thing from Beverly's mind when she walked through the door.
She'd changed out of her dress and was wearing a loose fitting, faded red sickbay scrub suit. Her hair, which had been pulled up softly on the back of her head for the wedding, had fallen in loose strands around her face. She was exhausted. He could tell. Without even a word of greeting, she collapsed on the side of the bed.
Jean-Luc rose to his knees and knelt behind her, his hands expertly beginning to massage the tight muscles in her shoulders. She exhaled a heavy sigh and leaned against him, her back warm on his thighs. Overly warm, he realized, allowing a hand to slip up to her cheeks.
"Beverly, you've got a fever."
She shook her head, her hand pushing his away from her face. "No, I don't."
"Yes, you do. Let me get your tricorder." He moved to get off the bed, for she kept her emergency medical kit in the bathroom.
Her hand caught his arm, stopping him. "Jean-Luc, there's no need to get the tricorder." She smiled wanly, and he realized how flushed her cheeks were. "I'm just a little feverish. I'm overtired. You know how I get."
And it was true. She'd been known to run a slight fever whenever she was exhausted. The excitement of the day and the crisis in DS9's sickbay had taken their toll on her.
Jean-Luc smiled reassuringly. "Well, I'll bring your medical kit anyway. And a damp cloth. Why don't you get undressed and into bed. "
Beverly laughed softly, her gaze settling on the champagne. "I think getting me undressed and into bed was your main goal for tonight."
His smile faded into a sheepish grin. "Guilty as charged. But we can have our honeymoon tomorrow night." He gave her a gentle hug before getting off the bed and moving into the bathroom. He returned a minute later with her medical kit in one hand and a damp cloth in the other.
Beverly hadn't moved. She still sat, fully clothed, on the edge of the bed.
Without a word, Jean-Luc went to her, set the kit and cloth on the bed, and gently undressed her. He took the tricorder from the kit and checked her temperature. It was elevated, but only slightly, and he breathed a sigh of relief. She was tired and sleep would be the best thing for her. He helped her lay back on the bed and pulled a sheet up to her chest. Then he sat beside her, his hands running the damp cloth over her neck and face.
She smiled up at him. "I may have a place for you on my staff."
"Just as long as you have a place for me in your bed."
"Will you take a rain check?" she sighed.
"Always." He leaned down and kissed her forehead. "Now, close your eyes and get some sleep. Captain's orders."
"Yes, sir," she murmured. Her eyes fell closed and within moments she was asleep.
The heat emanating from Beverly's body woke him several hours later. He could tell, even before he ran the tricorder over her, that her temperature had risen drastically. She was shivering beside him, despite the weight of the covers that he'd drawn over them. She held to him as if drawing warmth from his body, and even in her sleep, she seemed reluctant to let him go when he pulled away from her and got out of bed.
For a moment, he was indecisive about what to do next. His first impulse was to call sickbay and request an emergency team, but he realized that they would probably wake the children and frighten them. He could alert sickbay and have Beverly transported there directly from their quarters. That was the better option.
Locating Beverly's dressing gown at the foot of the bed, he leaned down, uncovered her, and managed to pull it on her, a part of his mind knowing that she'd never forgive him if he transported her to sickbay naked, regardless of her condition. At the same time, he glanced up at the ceiling and hailed the medical staff on duty.
"Sickbay," he said quietly, but loud enough to open the channel.
He recognized Alyssa Ogawa's voice.
"Alyssa, this is Captain Picard. Beverly is ill. I'm having her transported to sickbay. I'll be joining her shortly."
"Yes, sir. We'll be ready," Ogawa replied efficiently.
"Transporter Room. Captain Picard here." He reached over, his hand fumbling on the bedside table, and picked up Beverly's communicator. He attached it to her dressing gown. "Lock on to Doctor Crusher's signal and transport her to sickbay."
"Aye, sir," came the reply.
A moment later, Beverly sparkled out of existence, leaving him alone in the dark room.