One Year On

It had been the longest twelve months that Jean-Luc Picard could remember. Adventures in debates of morality, transporter incidents and lessons in humanity had taken the Enterprise in turn. Still reeling from the near loss of his first officer, Jean-Luc Picard had found himself reassessing his situation for the three-hundredth and sixty-fifth time that year. He had of course, sanctioned Beverly's secondment to Starfleet Medical for a year; not that he would have been able to stop her going. When Wesley had requested to stay aboard his ship, he had his reserves; he had come to grow accustomed to the lad over the first year despite his initial shock at meeting him. Hell, he had been shocked enough when Wesley had exited the turbo lift, when Beverly had followed her son out he had been doubtful for a moment that he was still standing. He had not seen her in nearly ten years but at that moment it might have been only the day before that her, Jack and himself had been … younger. He couldn't shake off the feeling that their ship had sailed so to speak, and he certainly hadn't managed to anchor any attempt to dock it. However, when he had last spoken to her, about Wesley's request to stay, she had given the impression that she wouldn't have been happy to leave him with anyone else. It was as though nothing had changed between them. He had even managed to bond with Wesley over the time she had been away; he knew she would be happy to know this. And in a little over four hours, he would be able to tell her. If he was honest, he felt a little giddy about seeing her again. They were meeting at a Star base where they would also take on board a Dr. X and his 'Egg' in readiness for their next mission. He hadn't a clue what he was going to say to her, it wasn't as if at their age and standing he could simply go up to her with a bouquet of flowers and say 'hey, you know I've always held a torch for you, how about it?'

Beverly extricated herself from the somewhat boring conversation of Dr. X. She was less interested in the ins and outs of his fantastic device than in seeing her son again. And Jean-Luc. Wesley had sent reasonably regular letters, keeping her up-to-date with his progress in school and as an acting ensign. The Starfleet reports she had access to had filled in the rest. Reading the adventures that Enterprise had experienced while she had been neck-high in political bureaucracy, assessing and authorising research proposals, leading lectures and seminars and generally doing everything except practising medicine, made her nostalgic for the variety that life on a starship brought. She tried to focus on this instead of how she was going to feel seeing Jean-Luc Picard again. He had been one of her and Jack's closest friends and they had spent many happy times together when they had been … younger. It had been the only hesitation she had had about taking the job aboard Enterprise in the first place, seeing him after such a distance in time. They hadn't spoken since the funeral. But as awkward as she had thought it would be it had been worse when he asked her to transfer. Her temper had risen straight away; she had been able to contain it only to inform him that she had asked for the posting. This had seemed to placate him. Ironically it had only been her assurance that the assignment at Medical would only be temporary and that she would return that had seemed to satisfy him in signing her off his crew. Now, well, she was nervous about seeing him again.

Three hours to go. He contemplated ordering an increase in warp, but decided against it; he had no real reason to hasten their rendezvous other than a school-boy sized ego and lust. So, he settled himself in his quarters with his volume of Shakespeare, opening where he had left of, somewhere in the middle of act two of King Lear.

Three hours to go, she brushed her hair out, ready to shower and dress for the evening. Enterprise was due to dock at 19:00 hours and there was, after the necessary docking procedures, an expectancy that most of the crew would make use of the bar and restaurant on the base. She had forwarded a message to the captain of the ship that she would be in attendance at half past eight. She had resisted the need to add that she had something to tell him; it would be easier face to face.

"Bridge to Captain."

Jean-Luc awoke to the chirp of the ship's communicator system. He acknowledged that they had arrived at the starbase and were initiating docking protocol. He assented that he would make his way to the bridge in due course. Replacing the heavy collection of literature back in its customary place, he considered his itinerary for the evening: he was expected to make the usual pleasantries with the officer in command of the base; meet with their esteemed guest and pass him quickly onto Riker who would be making the necessary arrangements for his stay along with LaForge who was in charge of the safe storage of the 'egg'; cast his eye over the daily reports as per; and meet a particularly vivacious red-head in the base bar.

The bar was bustling as it had been every one of the three nights that she had been on the station. Ships and delegates coming in and out of the base, availing themselves of the facilities; luckily there were a collection of scientists holding Dr. X's attention tonight, she was sure she didn't need to have to remove herself from him a second time that day so that she could spend uninterrupted time with her friend. He hadn't replied to her message, she assumed he was busy. She didn't like to think that it had anything to do with their last argument aboard the ship: he had taken objection to something she had done, as per. Smiling to herself, she remembered how Selar had been trying to do her physical at the time.

The last time she had been aboard the ship, they had been in the middle of a row while Selar was trying to do her physical. He couldn't even remember what the argument had been about, something to do with her assignment of resources that hadn't been properly sanctioned. If he was honest, he knew that his response must have seemed exaggerated to the situation and that it had more to do with not wanting her to go. He grinned in the mirror as he took in his appearance, he still cut a fine figure, he thought. All work done for the day, he had secured them a two day docking at the base so many of the crew and civilians were also making their way off the ship as he moved through the corridors.

She looked up at the doorway more frequently as the time drew nearer. The school-girl butterflies in her stomach were in no way settling with the red wine she was drinking. It wasn't synthehol tonight; it wasn't that sort of night. Eventually a familiar figure appeared in the entrance to the bar, the butterflies fought for dominance. She watched as he made his way to the bar and finished the slither left in her glass.

He stood at the bar and ordered his drink, not synthehol, not tonight. He leant on his right elbow and glanced around the bar, he saw a few members of his crew milling about. A presence beside him caused him to turn back to the bar.

"Hello, Captain," silky San Franciscan tones filled his ear and tickled with his senses.

He turned to his left, rose one eyebrow, "Can I get you a drink?"

"Red wine, thanks," she smiled, ruby red lips against porcelain skin.

He added her order to his own as the bar-tender returned with his own glass of the same. "So, doctor," he drank in her appearance whilst waiting to drink until she had hers. She was wearing a blue velveteen dress, long-sleeved and covering but leaving her shoulders bare. She had lightened her hair since serving on Enterprise but it suited her, and him.

"It's good to see you, Jean-Luc," she replied sincerely. The desire to flirt like the girl in her wanted to so desperately was repressed by the rational part of her mind, even when he wasn't her serving officer, there were still more hurdles between them than could ever be vaulted. "Shall we?"

He followed her gaze to a table away near the window. He agreed silently and took a sip of his drink as he followed her, trying not to focus solely on the sway of her hips. She was to be under his command again, and even if she wasn't, there were at least a million reasons why it was inappropriate for him to be watching her hips.

"I'm sorry I didn't reply to your message," he said as they sat down.

"It's ok," she smiled. "I know how busy you get."

"So, how was your year?" he asked.

For two hours and three glasses of wine each, they discussed the ins and outs of Starfleet protocols, events that Beverly had heard about but never satisfied her curiosity on, whether or not she had enjoyed teaching, whether or not she had managed to do any teaching, how Wesley had been getting on in school and as an ensign and how she'd have to ask Will that and whether Worf really had been tucking him up with a story at night, apparently. For two hours and three glasses of wine each, he avoided telling her how he felt and she avoided telling him that she had something to tell him. It was as the waiter brought them their fourth round, where they exchanged wine for liqueurs, that they each tried to break the ground of the conversation simultaneously and in different directions.

"So how has Katherine Pulaski been treating your sickbay?" she asked.

"Will and Deanna are still pretending that they weren't once in love," he stated.

She blinked, gossip wasn't normally his tack. He blinked; it must have been longer than he thought that he had had real alcohol for him to blurt that one out.

"She's been very good actually," he decided to pretend he hadn't spoken.

"Well, that's their want," she replied carefully.

"But I'll be glad to have you back," he studied her very carefully. He hoped he hadn't just made a fool of himself and also hoped that he hadn't just given the impression that Katherine Pulaski had been anything other than an inconvenient thorn in his sickbay for the last twelve months.

"Jean-Luc," she bit her lip, almost wishing that the Will and Deanna story had taken precedence.

"What?"

"I'm not coming back."