He swings his bag over his shoulder and steps off the transport platform. Jean-Luc feels strange out of uniform, but being in uniform on the Dar es Salaam made the crew nervous. Politely nervous in that Starfleet-legend sort of way, but he'd rather avoid the pomp and circumstance and be a nondescript bald man, who happens to be travelling on a starship, not the great Captain Picard.
Half a second after his feet touch the carpet, Kathryn arrives, smiling apologetically. He's seen her over subspace, but he wasn't quite prepared for how round her belly is. His eyes drop.
Hers follow and she laughs, holding out her arms. "It's terrible, isn't it?"
"You look lovely--" Jean-Luc stops before he calls her admiral and invites her wrath.
Kathryn hugs him tight and the round ball of her belly presses into his stomach. She's shorter than Beverly and with Three between them, her head rests on his chest. He's never been a very affectionate man. Embraces are for family and moments of extreme emotion; Beverly's wife holds him tight, so he returns the pressure. She exhales but doesn't lift her head. He drops his hands down her back and watches the transporter chief's expression remain professional.
She steps back, hands still grabbing his arms. "I'm so glad you're here."
"Long day?" He squeezes her shoulders, nods to the transporter chief and offers Kathryn his arm. Beverly he could read immediately but not knowing what Kathryn needs won't stop him from offering what he has.
"No, actually." Taking his arm, Kathryn frowns a little before she shakes it off. "My day was quiet. All I had to do was report that another ship ran into the plasma briars."
"It's a new phenomenon we're tracking, tiny plasma clouds that appear harmless enough until one of them trips up a ship. They go straight through shields and wreak havoc on our plasma conduits. Sometimes they stop functioning all together, sometimes they explode." Kathryn shifts her weight as they step into the lift. She rubs at her lower belly absently.
Following her hand, he catches a glimpse of a protrusion, definitely the baby, through the layers of her uniform and flesh.
"I hope no one's been seriously hurt."
"Casualties are light but they're growing. Half the crew of the Toronto needs to be treated for plasma burns. Beverly's down in the infirmary, putting everyone back together but it's a mystery that's starting to become a real problem." She tugs at her uniform, the maternity uniforms resemble the cut of old dress uniforms and she seems less than pleased with it. "She keeps saying burns are easy to treat, just very tedious when nerves are involved."
"Seems she's quite busy."
"Busier than I am." Kathryn gives him half a smile and pats his hand. "I can't tell if I'm being overly emotional, if I miss her too much or if I'm actually jealous she has more work than I do."
He smirks. He'd be the latter if his spouse was working and he was sitting at a desk. "Could be anything."
Her eyes narrow for a moment and she glares down at the protrusion he noticed before. Kathryn rubs it more urgently then meets his eyes.
"Three keeps trying to stretch herself into bigger quarters." Kathryn reaches for his hand as the lift stops. It's a quiet deck and no one's waiting so the doors remain open. "Here." She holds his hand firmly against the surprisingly bony foot pressing against her uterus. "Feel that?"
He nods, a smile stealing over the wonder on his face. "That can't be comfortable."
Kathryn covers his hand with his and smirks. "You don't want to call it magical?"
"It can be magical and uncomfortable at the same time."
"Oh she's been coaching you." Leading him off the lift, Kathryn chuckles and shakes a finger at him. "Beverly told you what to say."
"In a manner of speaking, yes, I suppose she did." He lets her wonder until she seems ready to pounce. "I spent much of Beverly's pregnancy listening to all the things Jack did that irrationally annoyed her."
"And you remembered?"
Jean-Luc nods. "At the time, I thought it might come in useful if she ever had another child." Thirty years is too long to be jealous of Jack and Kathryn's face softens.
"Did they want to have other children?" She opens their quarters.
When the cat makes his usual bid for freedom, Jean-Luc's ready for him and scoops him up in a big, grumbling bundle of fur. "Hello Maestro."
"He was just coming to welcome me." Jean-Luc returns the cat to the floor once the door is shut and the grey tomcat eyes him before sauntering off to protect his pride.
"I keep losing him." Kathryn pauses by the sofa instead of sitting and rocks her hips back and forth slowly. "Sorry, this feels better."
Jean-Luc shrugs. "If there's anything I can do-"
"If you're going to the replicator for tea I'd love a cup of coffee." Kathryn beams at him and adds, "I have the hypospray."
"I can never be sure whose side you're on."
He finds the cat waiting for him expectantly at the replicator and stares down at the gold feline eyes. "I believe I'm on the Maestro's side."
"Dammit, Jean-Luc, supplement forty-seven, would you?" Kathryn sighs and sinks into the sofa, hands on her belly. "I keep forgetting."
Da Vinci nearly dances as he leads Jean-Luc to the area of the floor dedicated to his bowl. The cat attacks his food with relish but he appears far from malnourished.
"He's fine," Jean-Luc calls to her as he orders the drinks. He sets her coffee down in front of her and rescues the half-forgotten hypospray from the table.
"He hates me."
"You were just making sure he'd accept me."
Kathryn sighs again, resting her fingers on her chin. "That must have been it."
He stares at the dark surface of his tea for a moment, then answers her question from before. "Beverly and Jack talked about having another child, both of them were only children and they wanted Wesley to grow up with siblings. Given my rocky relationship with my brother, I of course, tried to dissuade them. They were waiting to be stationed together, so they could share the experience, but, I suppose, fate intervened."
Jamming the hypo into her neck with practised ease, Kathryn listens and sips her coffee. "I don't think I would ever have put up with this without Beverly here every night."
"She's very happy about the baby."
"Lots of rambling messages?" Kathryn smiles but he catches the relief in her eyes.
"I believe I know more now about pregnancy than I ever thought I would happen to learn." He turns his tea cup in his hands, trying to decide how to word what he wants to say. "It's been a singular experience even being on the periphery of this baby's life."
"You're not on the periphery," she says, clucking her tongue. "Jean-Luc, we dragged you all the way out to the edge of the galaxy so you can be involved. Wet, sticky and involved. Possibly verbally abused."
Looking up, he's surprised at the connection between them. He loves Beverly as he loved Jack: a true friend. He's known Kathryn a fraction of the time but they're already family. "I won't hold it against you."
"Thank you." She tilts her head, brightening. "I can't yell at Beverly."
"Of course not, I understand completely." Jean-Luc watches the stars outside the window, catching the slow rotation of the station. "Will you do it here?" The indelicate phrase tumbles from his mouth but Kathryn doesn't seem to mind.
"Beverly said we should rearrange the dining area, because it's closer to the bedroom. The tub itself is massive. I keep trying to convince her we should keep it around for awhile but she thinks a bathtub in the living room is less than efficient." Kathryn shifts her legs and gazes at his crossed legs. "I wish I could do that."
"You will again."
"Doesn't feel like it." She finally pulls her legs up alongside her, leaning towards him. Her head's almost on him and as much as he can't say he knows what to do, he lifts his arm and gives her his shoulder.
Kathryn leans into him, finding comfort. "What was it like when Wesley was born?"
"Haven't you talked about this with Beverly?"
She starts to turn her head and stops, as if deciding it's not worth the effort. "We have. I want an outsider's opinion."
"Beverly was quite young."
"I've seen holos. Why was her hair so straight?"
He chuckles. Beverly's hair has been changing as long as he's known her. "Sometimes it was."
"What was Jack like?"
"Funny." Jean-Luc could protest that Beverly would talk about him better, but Kathryn's curious. "Impetuous, confident. Fiercely loyal."
"The kind who has your back in a bar fight?"
"Even if you're facing Klingons."
"I remember thinking that something so small could not possibly mean so much to anyone, but there he was and he was the centre of their universe. His hair looked very dark, which didn't make any sense to me because Beverly and Jack were both so fair. He was very red and covered in-"
"Goo," Kathryn interrupts.
"I think it was vernix."
She pats his chest for him to continue.
"I remember watching Beverly wipe it all off of him and the way she smiled was so peaceful. She was beautiful pregnant, all radiant and then at the end, she had Wesley and he brought out such light in her." He turns his head, wondering if her eyes are even still open. He's been accused of putting people to sleep before but that was archaeology not the story of the only birth he's ever seen.
Beverly wanted Kathryn to get more rest, he remembers and continues dredging his memory.
"Beverly was very calm. She smiled more than anything at first. Jack and I didn't know what to do half of the time but Beverly was relaxed. Jack and I spent a few hours just being in awe of her and doing what she told us to do. Move the chair, rub her back, bring her water. Jack wanted to be able to do something, anything, and I think I was there just to distract him.
"The midwife was this tiny ancient woman with dark little hands. I didn't even know Starfleet had midwives, but near headquarters, in the big cities, on the big stations, they specialise. Most of the labour was between her and Beverly. They walked back and forth on the old floor of their apartment. That whole complex must have been built in the twenty-third century but Beverly liked the view and Jack liked the pizza place on the corner."
"Did you get pizza?" Kathryn's question is surprisingly awake and startles him.
"Jack and I talked about it. He loved this one with all the peppers and spicy meat. It got late before we really knew we were hungry, so we didn't get pizza until the next day."
"So Wesley was born at night?"
"A black night. It's always so foggy in near the ocean but it cleared up eventually. Beverly was on her hands and knees and Jack put his head down so he didn't see at first. We switched around because once he knew Wesley was there, he wanted to watch. I remember how focused Beverly was. How the rest of the universe was just gone. She was so powerful then, so aware of herself."
"She says she doesn't remember much. Your hands being dry. Jack pacing and being more nervous than she'd seen him since right before the wedding and how you kept making him laugh."
"Jack was easily distracted."
"Sometimes that's nice in a friend."
"I suppose I remember feeling like there was nothing I could do but that I couldn't leave. It was very intense but calm. Wesley was perfect. Beverly and Jack were so enraptured with him. I don't think I saw either of them happier. Once he was there, the timing seemed right. He got to look up at the stars."
Kathryn turns with difficulty, rotating around and sitting up so she can see his face. "You don't have to--"
"It's not a burden, Kathryn. Getting to see this baby arrive is a gift."
"Even if I scream Vulcan obscenities at you?"
He nods, smiling. "I promise to ignore any obscenities."
"I'm not calm like Beverly."
"I highly doubt I would be."
"I keep worrying I'll be the wild hysterical opposite, screaming, cursing and hating everyone."
"Your quarters should be reasonably soundproof." He says it with a straight face and she smirks before she points at him.
"You have a point."
She pats his knee and points at the replicator. "All right. You can tell me the rest while we make dinner, but you have to stand up first and be my tractor beam off the sofa."
Jean-Luc lowers both his hands and she takes them gratefully.
Kathryn grins at him, a sly gesture that puts a wicked light in her eyes. "She said I should ask you about the mambo."
He catches hold of the back of a chair and rests his elbows on it. "She's cruel, your wife."
"Apparently there was a contest in your past."
"The far distant past."
Laughing as he pushes off the chair, Jean-Luc meets her at the replicator and watches her program in dinner.
"What do you have to trade for my delightful tale of the Starfleet dance competition, European division?"
"Three years of Talent Night on Voyager?" She taps in the last choice for dinner and extends her hand to make the deal.
"Done." He shakes her hand, crosses his arms over his chest, then sighs. "Beverly convinced Jack to enter with her, which he did, but he thought it would be riotously funny if he put my name instead of his on the entry form."
When she walks into her quarters, still trying to shake the feel of the surgical cap from her hair, she smells garlic and butter. Kathryn can't be cooking, that happens about as rarely as one of their supply runs having everything she asked for.
Jean-Luc's at the cooking array, adding something to the pan as Kathryn hovers, watching his hands. He can cook, his mother made sure of it, but it's rare that he ever has the time. He seems to be enjoying it now. The knife flies through something leafy and green before he tosses it into the pan.
Beverly unzips her uniform jacket and leaves it over the sofa as she heads towards the two of them at the far end of the living room. It's not a real kitchen, but it's close enough for the time they have to spend in it.
Kathryn sees her first, waving her over. "Beverly, he's cooking in our quarters."
The greens start to hiss in the pan. Jenan-Luc turns just to smile at her. "Kathryn and I found a species of chard in the supplies from Caldos. I remembered how much you liked it last time we had it."
"Last time we replicated." Beverly wraps her arm around Kathryn's shoulders and kisses her cheek.
"My mother would just love him. Remind me to invite him to the next family dinner."
Kathryn holds on to her tight, wrapping her arm around Beverly's waist. She's warm and the scent of her hair is familiar and light, much better than regenerative gel Beverly's been coating burns with all day.
"How'd it go?"
"Lieutenant Marshall pulled through. She'll need reconstructive surgery and possibly a synthetic leg if the muscles won't regraft to her bone, but she'll be all right in a few days, then a few weeks of therapy." She kisses Kathryn's forehead, just because she's here and she can.
"Have you been able to find anything more about these plasma clouds?" Jean-Luc pulls hot bread from the replicator and sets it down on the table.
Beverly slides into a chair, reaching for the bread. The smell races through her, settling in the pit of her stomach.
Kathryn eyes her and nods, giving her permission. "Eat."
The bread tears in her hands. It's almost too hot to eat with the inside soft and steaming. She waves it slowly in the air, trying to cool her piece.
Still watching Jean-Luc cook, Kathryn shifts her weight back and forth, slowly making a circle with her hips. Her bottom's rounded out in the last few months and she has more in her hips than she did before. Beverly has watched hundreds of women's bodies change, and she watched her own, yet this is different. She's the intimate outsider who feels everything through a layer of flesh.
Kathryn has been paying some attention during their belly dance sessions, Beverly notes. Her hips move more smoothly than they did.
The two of them banter about plasma clouds and the data Emor's been sending back from the Romulan ship. The Romulans are equally baffled, and though Kathryn's competitive side likes that the Romulans aren't ahead, Beverly's seen enough plasma burns to wish the Romulans had solved the mystery.
When her bread finally cools, Beverly tears into it, listening as Kathryn insists plasma particle physics can work in ways that go against all laws of the universe and Jean-Luc laughs and makes her set the table.
Beverly starts to get up but both of them stop her.
"You worked all day," Kathryn says, patting her shoulder. "The only thing I did was stand up and sit down and pick up our guest."
"Sit, please. We have it well in hand."
Dishes find their places in front of her and Jean-Luc takes care of the wine. Kathryn puts water in her glass and lifts it in a toast.
"Bad luck," Jean-Luc warns.
Kathryn smirks at him, downs her water, pours barely a centimetre of wine into her glass and meets his eyes again. "Better?"
"To Three," Jean-Luc says, smiling at Kathryn's belly. "Whomever he or she will turn out to be."
Glasses clink and Kathryn's hand covers hers for a moment before they start passing around the food. Some is hand cooked, some replicated, as much as Nana would chide her, Beverly's always had a hard time telling the difference. Replicators are so much like the real thing.
Nana would say she eats too fast, and she does, she's hungry. Kathryn eats slower, steadily making progress on her plate and Jean-Luc eats like a gentleman.
Beverly can't remember what she ate for lunch and her plate's empty before Kathryn's halfway through hers.
"You brought wine."
"I see it as my responsibility," Jean-Luc says tearing more bread with his hands. "Marie sends me more than I can drink. This is the seventy-two, not an exceptional year. I have a bottle of the fifty-one and that, that is truly spectacular."
"Do I get it in labour or afterwards?"
"If you want it in labour, you're welcome to it. Hopefully you'll keep it down." Beverly says the last without thinking and watches Jean-Luc and Kathryn share a look.
"She vomited." Jean-Luc says, setting down his bread.
Beverly laughs, watching Kathryn's eyebrows raise. "Was it twice?"
Beverly rubs Kathryn's shoulder, reassuring her. "You probably won't. Not all women do."
"I'll make sure it's on you." She makes the joke easily but Beverly can see her sorting the thought away.
Jean-Luc chuckles, passing Kathryn the bread. "Jack would find that amusing."
"What was it? Why did you throw up on him?"
Kathryn's eyes twinkle; she's fearless tonight. "Was it on Jack?"
Beverly shakes her head. "I can't say I remember."
"It was the first time. He evaded the last two." Jean-Luc refills Beverly's glass and smiles. "He went into the sonic shower and came back in entirely different clothing and he was so amazed that you had no idea he'd been gone."
"Transition is your own universe. I don't think I even bothered telling you apart. I just grabbed whomever's hand was closest."
Jean-Luc leans back in his chair and glances across at Kathryn, who's taking more salad. "Feel free to get us wrong, if you like."
"I might have to." She pops a piece of tomato into her mouth. "Except your hands are different enough I might notice."
"Possibly." Beverly lets that go unremarked but Kathryn gets it. She's too quick sometimes. Beverly can imagine her making a list in her head of all the bizarre things she might do in labour. She'll have to ask Kathryn later; make sure her questions are answered before she tries to fall asleep.
"I don't think I've ever before had license to say whatever I wanted. If I'd known I just had to have a baby, I would tried for it much sooner."
Jean-Luc smirks. "I've been available, all you had to do was ask."
Meeting his eyes over her plate, Kathryn giggles, covering her mouth with her napkin. "Our children could be in the academy by now. What were we thinking, wasting all that time?"
Beverly listens to them joke without joining in. Jean-Luc plays games of hypothetical so well that she can picture him with a child already, holding her close and telling her about the stars. She keeps picturing Three as a girl. She hasn't checked, and as often as Kathryn has threatened to cheat, she hasn't either. Three is still an unknown variable, just as likely to be a boy with Jean-Luc's darker hair and eyes or a little girl with Kathryn's cheekbones.
After Kathryn and Jean-Luc's mythical children, all with impossible mixed names of old Germanic and French tradition, like Greta Marianne and Ludwig Jean-Francois, have been married off in their shared fantasy, Jean-Luc excuses himself to fetch the dessert.
Kathryn rubs the back of Beverly's hand and her touch is much gentler than the ensign who grabbed her hand out of terror this morning.
"Our children are going to hate us, aren't they?"
"All children hate their parents occasionally, it's how you know you're making an impact on their development."
Kathryn nods but shuts her eyes halfway and inhales. Her sharp intake of breath coincides with her fingers tightening on Beverly's. Braxton-Hicks contractions annoy her and Beverly wraps her fingers tight.
"I hate these."
"Aren't you supposed to tell me how much more I'll hate the real thing?"
"I think you'll like the real thing more."
That makes her laugh. Kathryn's eyes open and she smirks, even though her brow is still wrinkled in discomfort.
"You'll be doing something."
"Oh I see."
"You're the great Kathryn Janeway, pain doesn't bother you, useless pain does."
Kathryn drops her gaze to the table, pink rising in her face. "You're never going to let me be done with that interview are you."
"I should be grateful you agreed to marry me. No one writes long, loving articles of the Federation News Service calling me the great Beverly Janeway--"
Kathryn can't lean over and kiss her, so she pulls Beverly close and kisses her that way. "They should."
"You think so?"
"If they knew half what I know about you, 'great' wouldn't cover it."
Jean-Luc sets desert in front of her, some kind of caramel custard. Kathryn, who usually ignores desserts in favour of coffee ice cream, has been fascinated by them for the last few months and running wild through the replicator library. Custards, brownies, cookies and layer cakes from a host of different worlds keep arriving on their table.
"Are we talking about the interview that neglected to mention Kathryn's lovely wife?'
"I was mentioned at the bottom." Beverly sets her spoon and picks up her coffee. "Admiral Janeway married Starfleet Medical's Doctor Crusher on star date 56975.8 on Deep Space Five. Delegations from the Klingon and Romulan empires were present."
Jean-Luc smiles and takes another bite.
Beverly continues, "The doctor wore her dress uniform and looked half-dead."
"You looked beautiful." Kathryn assures her, patting her knee under the table. "Maybe a little ethereal but beautiful."
There are more holos of their wedding than Beverly expected, considering how last minute it was, and she can see the marks of the virus on her face. She's only a mark above deathly pale in the holo Kathryn insists on keeping in the living room. In it, Kathryn has dark circles under her eyes that are only starting to fade, Will looks exhausted, the lines on Jean-Luc's face are deep and Tuvok has that greenish hint to his skin Vulcans develop when they haven't slept.
She turns her head to the side, looking at the wedding picture they finally agreed on. Everyone's surrounding them, Kathryn's crew, her family from the Enterprise and a group of strangers who are just happy to be alive. There's even a few Klingons in the background and a Romulan standing behind Will. Those are the moments she signed on for, not only to heal, she could have done that on Caldos or planet side somewhere, but to be part of that kind of victory over death.
One that unites against the darkness.
Beverly lowers her wine glass so Jean-Luc can refill it and takes Kathryn's hands to help her out of her chair and over to the sofa. After he sets down the wine glasses on the coffee table, he lifts the holo from the wall shelf and carries it over to his chair next to the sofa. He studies it while Kathryn squirms and finally settles down with her feet in Beverly's lap. Her feet are sore and her ankles are swollen. Beverly tugs off Kathryn's socks and starts massaging her toes.
"You make a lovely couple," Jean-Luc says, looking over the holo. "Less formal than Will and Deanna's wedding, but no less remarkable."
"Is that why you've avoided weddings for such a long time?"
Jean-Luc returns the picture to the shelf and reaches for his wine glass. "Attending the weddings of those I love is a great joy, planning my own has never been a priority."
Maestro emerges from the bedroom, glances at the sofa and decides that Jean-Luc's lap is a better target. He strolls over and leaps up. He turns, kneading into Jean-Luc's thighs with his huge paws.
Jean-Luc looks down at him, then tentatively strokes his head. The cat settles down, content. After a moment or two, he begins to purr, rumbling his approval.
"And you're happy."
"I am," he says, rubbing the cat under his chin. "I do have something to confess, however."
"Oh?" Kathryn's attention perks up.
Beverly turns her face to Jean-Luc, slowly rubbing Kathryn's ankles. "New girlfriend?"
"Oh no," he says. He sips his wine and sets it down. Using two hands to stroke the cat, he turns to them both, his face softening. "One of my security officers, Lieutenant Avados, is transferring to Earth to study advanced tactical training. She can't take her cat and--"
Kathryn sits up, interrupting, "You're not."
Stuffing one of the cushions behind Kathryn's shoulders, Beverly holds onto her feet. "I didn't know you made a habit of sheltering cats."
"This is one cat and she's called Miranda. She's considerably smaller than your Maestro here and we've already met at a poker game."
Kathryn appraises him. "Pick up all your girls at poker games?"
Beverly digs her fingers into the sore spot on Kathryn's ankle. She smiles across at Jean-Luc and the Maestro, picturing him with a little cat on his lap while he reads his reports. "I hope Anij isn't going to be jealous."
"I like to think Anij would be pleased that I'm living in the moment. I'll have to make arrangements with one of the biologists to keep an eye on her while I'm off the ship."
"Or on the bridge forever."
"Or sleeping in the ready room," Kathryn says, then sighs. "When do I get my feet back?"
"Someday, but you may always be in your new boot size."
"I thought that was temporary."
"It might be."
Kathryn looks to Jean-Luc for help. "I've worn the same size boots since the Academy."
"You'll be able to get all new ones."
"And if I liked my old ones?"
Jean-Luc rubs Da Vinci's head thoughtfully. "I'm told parenthood involves a great deal of sacrifice."
Kathryn lies back, rubbing her temples. "Starting with my boots."
Stroking her cheek, Beverly pats Kathryn's feet. "You can dream about your boots in bed. Come on."
Jean-Luc shifts the cat from his lap with a pat of apology. "I'll get the dishes."
"I can get them in the morning," Beverly says. "Have you found your quarters yet?"
"I'm sure I can find them." He kisses Kathryn's cheek. "I'll see you in the morning I hope. I'm looking forward to the grand tour."
"As long as you don't mind a snail's pace and three stops for lunch."
"That'll give me a chance to try three different restaurants."
"That's the spirit." Kathryn heads into the bedroom, chatting with the cat as he follows her.
Beverly looks over all the dishes. Putting them in the replicator should take a few minutes in the morning, but it'll wake her up at least. She walks Jean-Luc to the door. Before he leaves, she stops him and hugs him close.
"Thank you for coming."
"I wouldn't miss this. Besides, the look on Admiral Yunde's face when I requested leave was priceless. I think he'd expected me to spend the next ten years without asking taking any shore leave. Let alone parental leave."
"What's the Enterprise doing without you?"
"Surveying the dark matter nebula on the periphery of Gorn space. Worf has it well in hand."
"I'm sure he loves a good survey."
"He may be hoping for some other emergency as we speak." He reaches for the door controls then stops. "Beverly, I know it wasn't necessary that I be involved to this extent and I want to thank you both for allowing me to be."
"It's your first baby, you should be involved."
He looks past her, thinking for a moment before he meets her eyes again. "I long ago gave up the idea of having children. Being the captain of a starship came first."
She touches his chest. In another universe, she can almost imagine herself having children with him. Jean-Luc's the longest love affair of her life and they've long ago settled into something comfortable and platonic. "I'm sure you can manage to be a starship captain and Three's father. We'll only need holidays and the occasional weekend."
"I'll make room in my quarters." For a moment he stops, eyes bright with gentle anticipation. "If you're sure Three would like the Enterprise."
She hears the undercurrent and smiles. "You always helped Wesley when he needed you. Younger children are much easier. They just need to feel safe and loved, I'm certain you can do that."
"I'll take your word for it." He kisses her cheek. "Good night Beverly."
"Good night-" she pauses, then can't resist. "Dad."
His eyes go wide and he opens his mouth without sound. After a moment, Jean-Luc recovers. "You're going to have Three call me dad?"
"You'd prefer Papa."
"Have you talked to Kathryn about that?"
"It was her idea. Good night, Jean-Luc."
He shakes his head and mutters to himself as he disappears down the corridor.
Beverly collects some of the dishes and leaves them all on the table. She shuts off the lights in the living room and watches Maestro settle on the windowsill to watch the stars. Kathryn's in the shower; she can hear it running in the bathroom. Beverly strips off her uniform and drops it unceremoniously into the laundry slot. She's been flying through her uniforms this week but the laundry keeps up as it always does. She pulls her nightgown on and sits on the bed.
The PADD on her table has her schedule for tomorrow and if there are no more emergencies, she should be able to take the afternoon off, unless she works ahead. Jabara and the rest of her staff promise they can handle it, but it's her infirmary, she wants it to be perfect while she's on leave.
Kathryn's hand runs up the back of her neck, warm from the sonic shower. "You're not working are you?"
"It's just the schedule."
"What did we say about working in bed?"
Beverly's caught. She insisted on keeping their work out of the bedroom as much as possible in the beginning of their marriage and even Kathryn's been good about leaving her work in the living room.
Kathryn wriggles the PADD out of her hands and tosses it towards the living room. The cat startles and they can hear him jump off the window to see what it is.
"You think I don't want to obsess over everything Tuvok's doing to my station in my time off?"
"Haven't you read every report he's sent at least three times?"
"I fell asleep in the engineering one," Kathryn says, pulling Beverly's hair out of the way and kissing her neck. She works her way down the back of Beverly's nightgown, sliding one of the straps off her shoulder. Her belly presses against Beverly's side, round and hard.
"Guess you're not sleepy now?"
"Nope." Kathryn turns Beverly around, kissing her. "Must be all the sugar."
Kathryn's mouth does still taste faintly of sugar. Beverly runs her hands through Kathryn's hair, pulling it back from her eyes. Her hair's been up all day and it's wavy from the pins. She loves it down and though Kathryn thinks it's never practical, Beverly often pulls her hair down at the end of the day.
Kathryn's robe is only half on and Beverly slips it off of her shoulders. Kathryn's breasts are full and heavy. They've been leaking and sore but there's a special beauty in how round they are. Beverly touches one with gentle fingers and Kathryn sighs.
"What does nursing feel like?"
"We talked about this." Beverly runs her finger in a slow circle around a nipple.
"I like it when you tell me." Kathryn eases Beverly's nightgown off the other shoulder and kisses her way across her collarbone.
"It depends on the baby. Some of them are more gentle than others. Wesley pulled."
"Pulled, like he was never going to get enough. He relaxed when he was older, but when he was tiny, he tugged."
Kathryn lowers her mouth to Beverly's nipple and pulls it into her lips. She sucks for a moment, not as hard as Wesley, then giggles as she returns to Beverly's mouth. "Is Three going to be like that?"
"Some babies are more polite. Nana said my mother was incredibly dainty, only nursing a little and always very gentle."
"I don't know if gentle can empty these." Kathryn holds her breasts in her hands, eyeing them with wry suspicion.
"They're fine. All women's breasts change."
"And my feet, and my hips, and my hair--"
"You like your hair."
"I do!" Kathryn traces the purple marks on her belly and sighs. "I don't know if the hair is worth the stretch marks and new boots."
"You liked your old size."
"Your feet didn't get bigger." Kathryn lies back, curling up on her side.
"My feet were big enough when I got pregnant. They didn't have to change. They were sore if that makes you feel better."
Kathryn's fingers run down from Beverly's neck, cupping her right breast before sliding across her flat stomach.
"You got your figure back."
Kathryn's hand skips Beverly's cleft and switches to her knee. It almost tickles but she increases the pressure and Beverly sighs as her hand climbs higher.
"You're going to send me back to the holodeck until I get my figure back, aren't you?"
"You love ballet." Beverly's voice is more of a gasp when Kathryn's fingers start running over the wet lips of her vulva. She's a tease and her hand disappears a moment after she touches her. Kathryn kisses her again instead of arguing further. Beverly moans, knowing that drives Kathryn wild. Her taunting fingers finally slip over her clit, then in.
Opening Kathryn's legs, Beverly caresses down Kathryn's thigh, easing her way down. Kathryn's fingers jolt inside of her when Beverly finds her clit. Kathryn's very wet and Beverly's two fingers slip in easily. Pregnancy makes Kathryn easily aroused and even talking makes good foreplay. Kathryn comes first, shivering into orgasm. She pants against Beverly's shoulder, increasing the speed of her hand until Beverly follows her with a shudder. Kathryn's look of accomplishment is almost as good as the orgasm itself. She's always so proud of herself.
Beverly's teeth tingle and she runs her tongue over them as Kathryn gets comfortable against her chest. She'll shift again, and several times more before morning, but for now she curls against Beverly.
"What if labour takes too long?" Kathryn asks Beverly's chest.
"What are you thinking of as too long?" Beverly says, yawning up towards the ceiling. Her fingers follow the damp sweat on Kathryn's back, gliding up and down her skin. "There aren't rules."
"What if I get tired?"
"Then you'll be tired. It doesn't mean you've failed or that you're a bad mother."
"I wasn't thinking that." Kathryn replies, her voice soft but wide awake.
"Try to think of it more as a marathon than a task. There will be moments when labour goes well and you feel strong and powerful but there might be moments when you want to give up, when you hate me and Jean-Luc and want the whole universe to explode in a ball of fire."
"That didn't happen."
"Ask Jean-Luc. I'm fairly sure I said horrible things to him and Jack when I got tired."
"You got tired?"
"I'm not superhuman."
Kathryn squirms upward and kisses Beverly's chin. "Of course not."
"The longest delivery I've attended took several days."
Taking that in quietly, Kathryn toys with the edge of the sheet. "And?"
"And everything was fine. Her contractions just progressed very slowly. Once we got her up and moving around, she dilated and had a beautiful baby girl."
"What if Three's breech? Ensign Mihari's baby was breech just last month."
"Ensign Mihari and her baby are both fine. Most breech babies are born without any trouble. You just have to be more patient."
Patience is not one of Kathryn's virtues but she nods her head against Beverly's chest. "Three's shoulders could get stuck."
"There are a number of ways to unstick shoulders and shoulder dystoica is very manageable and unlikely. Three's under four thousand grams, you're in good health and your pelvis is normal. That doesn't mean it won't happen-" Beverly pauses, yawning again, "-but it's not something we need to worry about. Giving birth on your hands and knees helps, or pulling your knees up to your chest. I'll be there and Jean-Luc can help me move you around if we need to. Waterbirths mean you don't have to expend as much energy sitting up and put less weight on your legs, so you won't be too tired."
"What if something else happens?"
"There's the transporter and a medkit and a whole infirmary downstairs. I've had to perform several manual caesareans and the outcome of each of them was good. Even if everything went to hell and I had to deliver Three via caesarean in a turbolift with just a medkit, I think everything would be fine."
Kathryn chuckles, patting Beverly's hand. "Let's avoid that scenario."
"It's highly unlikely."
"I'm going to stay out of turbolifts."
"Try and keep the station out of ion storms, away from string fragments and keep us on good terms with the Romulans."
Beverly lets her eyes close, keeping them open is far too much work. Kathryn tugs up the blankets, then pushes them back down. She's warm against Beverly's skin and until she moves, Beverly doesn't really need the blanket.
She sighs in response, twitching her eyes open. "I'm still awake."
"I am enough."
"Are you happy?"
"Ask me in the morning."
Kathryn sits up and the bed shifts as her weight moves. "I'm serious."
"You're always serious at night." Beverly reaches up and caresses her cheek. "I'm very happy."
"Even when I won't let you sleep?"
"Even then, though you'll be pushing it if you wake me up in an hour or so."
Satisfied, Kathryn tries another position, then returns to the way she was. Beverly pats her shoulder and holds her until she falls asleep.
Breakfast smells like coffee and onions, maybe spinach. Kathryn opens her eyes to the sleepy cat curled up beside her. Maestro has made a habit of getting his breakfast and climbing back into the warm bed beside her until she gets up long after Beverly. Parental leave has been murder on Kathryn's schedule but sleeping in is a rare gift for someone in her position. Climbing out of bed, she pulls the pyjama shirt closest to her on over her head, one of Beverly's pink ones where the sleeves are far too long, and Kathryn finds a pair of her own pyjama pants that don't match at all.
She leaves the robe behind, she's always too hot and meets Jean-Luc by the table.
"I didn't mean to wake you." He sets down the pot of coffee in his hand and pulls out her chair.
"I'll sleep too long and wake up ravenous and grumpy if you let me." She stretches, awkwardly moving her weight from one foot to the other. Her back aches and all her vertebrae seem stiff, like they're carved of stone instead of bone.
"One of the few things I'm good at are omelettes," he says, pouring her coffee and returning to sizzling eggs.
She smells spinach, mushrooms, cheese and tomatoes. "You can cook."
"Better than I thought," he says, folding the omelette neatly onto a plate. "I'm afraid I rarely take the time."
Kathryn pats her belly and reaches for her coffee. "Nothing but time until Three gets here."
"Feel up to showing me around the station? I've never spent more than a day or two on the Stockholm-class station."
"Plenty of circular corridors, giant cargo bays and overcrowded restaurants." They've spent the last few days playing tourists on the station. Out of her uniform, Kathryn's not recognised immediately and she likes getting to see how her people go about their everyday lives without seeing everyone on their best behaviour because the admiral is visiting.
He sets an omelette and warm bread in front of her and nods. "Beverly mentioned the station was overcrowded. The arboretum and museum were quite full yesterday."
She swallows and replies, "School trips." Kathryn sips her juice, wishing she'd thought to replicate a caffeine-inhibitor shot before sitting down. "The station has several hundred more children than it was initially designed for. We can't turn away any of the families from the long-range vessels, but Starfleet's been sending more science vessels than they have in the past. We're negotiating with Caldos colony, trying to set up semi-permanent accommodation for some of the families planet side, but the weather recreation of Scotland isn't suitable for everyone and it's further out than some of them want to live." She tears into the bread and reaches for her fork. "We've set up dorms for the older children, and they seem to be really enjoying it."
"Something similar. Many of the teenagers have both parents on starships and letting them live together has been saving space and giving them a sense of independence." She shifts again. Her back is worse sitting down than it was standing up. "Would you mind replicating me a caffeine-inhibitor?"
"Of course." He leaves his napkin politely on his chair and returns with the blissful hypospray. "What are we going to see today?"
"Would you like to see the school? I keep meaning to go down there and look around but I haven't found the time. I'm sure some of the secondary students would love to see the great Captain Picard in person."
"My notoriety is more because of the Enterprise than any of my own actions, I assure you."
"And everyone wants to interview me because Voyager was so fascinating." Kathryn jams the hypo into her neck and waits a few seconds for it to sink into her bloodstream. "Do you ever wish you were just a captain, and no one knew Captain Picard had defeated the Borg, negotiated with the Romulans, prevented a Klingon civil war--"
He holds up his hand, wincing. "I'm sure you've wished bringing Voyager home had been the end of the fanfare."
"Breaking Starfleet protocol and getting yourself assigned to the far fringes of space takes some of the pressure off." She recognises the self-deprecating look on his face. "I promise to keep the hero worship to a minimum."
"I'll admit that Captain Picard Day has grown on me over the years. Some of the poetry has been quite flattering. One elementary student actually found several rhymes for 'bald'."
When she laughs, Kathryn forgets about the ache in her back. He's been incredible company over the last few days and she can't imagine how bored she would have been, arranging and rearranging their quarters while Beverly works. "You have some talented students on the Enterprise."
"I'm surprised so many children are still on board. The galaxy-class Enterprise had much more to offer families than the newest model. I suppose the urge to keep family close is there, no matter the situation."
The station is much safer than a starship, but even they have to evacuate occasionally. Kathryn hates the idea of putting Three in a shuttlecraft with the other children but if it keeps him safe, she'll adapt. Parenting is adaptation and patience.
After breakfast, they stop by the infirmary, just to see Beverly. A sensation of unease, vague like an approaching storm, lifts when they find her in her office. For once, she's not in surgery; today has been quiet.
Beverly rests her hands on Kathryn's shoulders and insists she sit in her chair. Balancing on the edge of her desk, she rubs the stiff muscles along Kathryn's neck.
"There was a minor climbing accident in one of the holodecks but broken bones don't take too much time. I'm working on a culture of the Bifraxian pneumonia virus to see if I can get it to grow in a normal atmosphere," Beverly says, swinging her foot alongside the desk.
Jean-Luc raises his eyebrows. "Are all your hobbies so dangerous?"
"I should keep her busier, shouldn't I?" Kathryn cranes her neck back and gasps when the motion lets Beverly find a new knot with her fingers.
"If I can determine how the virus survives in a normal atmosphere, I may be able to develop a cure for the planets affected by the heavy atmospheric variation."
Beverly pulls Kathryn closer and kisses her temple. "All right, I need to get back to my deadly viruses. What are you two going to do today?"
"Tour the schools."
"All of them?" Beverly's eyes glint with amusement. "You do know how to enjoy your time off don't you?"
"I've been meaning to see them."
Sliding off the desk, Beverly nods. "You keep putting it on your schedule."
"My schedule is as changeable as your viruses."
The analogy makes Beverly smile. "Have fun."
"You'll be home before dinner?" The idea of Beverly being late settles like a cold knot in Kathryn's stomach. If she could, she stay in the infirmary and watch her work, even if it is with deadly viruses.
"I'll be home as soon as Tuvok finishes the afternoon staff meeting."
Jean-Luc offers his hand to help her out of her chair. "We'll meet you in your quarters then."
His hand is warm and strong when it wraps around her fingers. Standing up puts the ache back into her lower spine and Kathryn bites her lip. It's only a few more days, she reminds herself. When it's all over, Three can be his own person and her body can be only hers again. Focusing on that helps a little but everything feels off, like she's out of phase with her own skin.
Beverly touches her chin, the kisses her. "It's a few more days."
"Unless Three takes the last few weeks."
"Three's your baby, maybe some of your impatience will be inherited."
Kathryn digs her fists into her back. "Tell me there's an impatience gene."
"I'll start looking for one in my next experiment, between you and Jean-Luc's DNA, I should be able to find the gene that codes for impatience." Beverly pats her shoulder. "I know the last few days are terrible. I told Jack that being pregnant was worse than my final medical exams. Those at least had a firm due date."
"Due dates are a vicious lie." Pouting, Kathryn wraps her hands around her belly.
"Want me to run another scan of your cervix?"
Staring down her belly, Kathryn shakes her head. "If you tell me it's not dilated at all, I'll probably burst into tears and if you say I am, I'll be on edge all day while I wait for something to happen."
"So you want to be surprised?"
"I would love to be surprised." Kathryn taps her belly. "You hear that Three? Surprise me."
"I'm sure the schools will be distracting." Jean-Luc's been standing there so quietly that Kathryn forgot he was even in the infirmary. He leaves the doorway he was leaning on and offers Kathryn his arm. "If you tire, we can spend the rest of the day watching holovids. Deanna recommended a few Betazoid dramas I know you haven't seen."
"Everyone's always so honest in Betazoid dramas." Kathryn takes a last look at Beverly, then sighs. "Tom and B'Elanna suggested some old Earth movies. B'Elanna's favourite is something called "Alien" but Tom thinks I should wait until Three is born to watch it."
"Jean-Luc could subject you to hardened detective novels." Beverly rubs Kathryn's shoulder then tilts her head towards the door. "You'd better go."
"Hard-boiled," Jean-Luc corrects, "and only if Kathryn likes mysteries."
She has to smile, even though her back hurts again. "I love mysteries."
Beverly shoos them out of her office with more promises to be home on time.
When they reach the turbolift, Kathryn uses the rails as an excuse to take some of the weight off her back. Rolling her hips in slow circles helps and she runs through all the mental exercises she knows to take her mind off her discomfort. Tuvok can always think his way out of pain. If she had his level of discipline, she could do the same.
Kathryn holds herself together through the elementary school. The children are quite young and easily distracted by their visitors. As the admiral of the station, she garners many unsure and admiring stares. Jean-Luc is an unknown and that lets him be accepted much more quickly. He takes a few minutes to warm up, but he reads one of the classes a story with impressions of all the important voices with the kind of gusto Kathryn's mother had.
After her mother reading Flotter, the holodeck was a shock, but Kathryn learned to accept both as true. Jean-Luc even succumbs to two of the smaller children trying to share his lap and in the back of the classroom she laughs.
The secondary school children have heard of the Enterprise and Voyager and their history teacher allows a question and answer hour that is more rigorous and honest than several of her debriefings at Starfleet command. Talking about the dangers of Starfleet life seems almost cruel considering that nearly every child in that room has at least one parent in uniform, but trying to soften it would be worse and somehow disingenuous.
Her losses on Voyager were more acute than his. Jean-Luc's lost far more people, but he's able to speak of the deaths on the Enterprise from further away. He tells one story of a young Bajoran ensign who sacrificed herself so a Cardassian spy could make it home that brings her to tears.
Breathing through tightened lips helps keep her from crying, but Kathryn can only hold off so long. By the end of the story, when even Jean-Luc's voice starts to crack, she's hopeless. To her surprise, and relief, none of the students seem shocked.
A human boy in the back tells a story about a lieutenant who pulled his mother off the bridge of a ship in a battle and saved her life. He doesn't know who the lieutenant is, but he wants to be security, just like him. He can't be more than fifteen, but Kathryn remembers that conviction.
"I knew I wanted to be in Starfleet when I was eleven. I used to sit outside and look up at the stars, wondering what it would be like when I was out there," Jean-Luc says, smiling at the memory. "Starfleet was the right choice for Admiral Janeway, many of your parents and I. It doesn't have to be your path. The universe is full of wonders you haven't seen yet. Starfleet is not the answer to all of your questions, though it may be for some."
The teacher and the students thank them both and Kathryn manages to blink away the last of her tears for awhile. Back in the turbolift, she watches Jean-Luc across from her and has to ask.
"Did you ask her to volunteer for the mission that killed her?"
He nods, tugging his sleeve. "She didn't hesitate. I had just forced her to prove herself to me and she volunteered to go to her death."
"A woman under my command lost both of her legs and her--" Kathryn stops herself, needing the breath before she can finish. She shouldn't say it aloud, not in the turbolift so far from her quarters, but she can't stop herself. "Her unborn child on an away mission of mine. I didn't know, she told me later."
"Computer halt," Jean-Luc asks the lift.
"I'm fine," she insists, rubbing her eyes. They seem determined to betray her and tears are as stubborn as the pain in her back. "I'm fine. It was a long time ago. I don't even know why I'm crying."
"Perhaps it's closer to you now."
"I didn't know." Kathryn sighs then sinks to the floor. The lift isn't moving and no one's going to override his command to halt it. There are other lifts and her back hurts too much to keep standing and try not to cry at the same time.
"We never do." He crosses the lift and sits next to her, his hands on his knees.
Kathryn dabs her eyes, but her tears continue. "I don't know how Beverly does it. When I order someone to her death, I don't see it every time. Sometimes I don't even see a body. When Beverly looses someone, they're right there, under her hands."
"I remember when she'd qualified as a doctor," he says, letting her cry. "I had been a captain for nearly a decade, and already jaded in my rank. Beverly was so young that I remember looking at her and thinking she'd never be able to handle losing a patient. She seemed so vital. How could she possibly handle the darkness that waited for her?"
She hasn't heard this story and imagining a young Beverly makes her smile. "What happened?"
"The border wars with Cardassia heated up and most of Beverly's graduating class was deployed to the front. When I saw her again, she'd been serving on a hospital ship supporting the Third fleet. She'd seen more death on that ship than I had in my entire tour on the Stargazer.
"And she made me laugh. Jack and I were waiting for her by the docking ring, pacing and trying to pretend we were patient. While we were failing miserably, Beverly appeared behind us. She'd beamed to the Stargazer and snuck through to startle us. She'd been watching us pace for a few minutes and gave herself away when she couldn't keep herself from laughing."
Kathryn watches him fold his fingers together.
"She'd been deep in death all that time and yet, when we saw her, she was still Beverly. None of her vitality was gone. She told me, years later, that she wondered if Jack would ever understand, or if she'd changed so much that he wouldn't recognise her."
"She loved him."
He touches her hand, reassuring her with a smile. "If we are destined for dull lives, we'll love once in our lifetimes. If we're lucky, we love many times."
"Is that from a detective novel?"
"It's a Yschen saying."
"Do they have anything about losing any sense of decorum?"
He turns to face her, eyes wide in surprise. "You haven't lost anything."
"I can't stop crying."
"I hear that happens to pregnant women."
"Doesn't mean I have to like it."
"Feel free to hate it."
Kathryn crosses her legs beneath her. "I intend to."
They talk about the Cardassians, and wars, and other friends they've lost. Kathryn's back stops hurting long enough to go comfortably numb by the time engineering finds them on the comms to ask if they're all right.
Jean-Luc drags her to her feet again and the lift whisks them up towards her quarters.
Stuffing a pillow between her lower back and the sofa helps some but the numbness from before is gone as soon as she's home. They still have an hour or two before dinner and the detractive novels, however pulpy, win out. Rain drenches the city by the bay but the hats are enough to keep the characters dry. The coats are covered in buckles and buttons and the dialogue is exactly the kind of thing Tom would love. It takes some time to understand the rhythm of it, but Jean-Luc pauses whenever she has a question and by the time they meet the mysterious woman, she's hooked. It's almost enough of a distraction, but her back still hurts. Being a dull ache doesn't seem to enough and some part of her spine sends a shooting pain up through her neck.
She winces and Jean-Luc pauses Dixon Hill and Curse of the Black Orchid.
"What is it?"
"Do you want a different pillow?"
"Are you sitting so any of your nerves are pinched?"
"No, I don't think--" She shakes it off. "It's fine."
Kathryn sighs, frustration seeps through her like warmth. Nothing makes any sense. "It's gone now."
He searches her face and she shrugs.
"I don't know what it is."
Jean-Luc has the same thought she does, but neither of them mention that Beverly will be home soon, almost as if that will jinx them all. He starts the holovid again and the love interest arrives in Dixon's office. Her tight red skirt is a favourite of the camera and the story is just ludicrous enough to be fascinating.
When the first gangsters attack, Kathryn grabs his hand. Not out of fear or surprise, but because she wants him to know she agrees and she can't say it aloud. Not yet. He surrounds her hand with his, his eyes still wide with surprise.
The bullets fly on the holoscreen and Kathryn lets the air out of her lungs. For once in the last week, when the evening meal draws within an hour, she's not hungry.
"Will you be in tomorrow, Doctor?" Jybara asks, standing in the door to Beverly's office.
Beverly sets the last PADD on her desk and nods. "Unless something changes."
"May the Prophets bring you an eventful night."
"I hope they're listening," Beverly says, reaching for the duty roster to approve before she leaves. "You left the inventory for tomorrow morning."
"Sometimes you have to tempt fate to get it to do what you want."
Beverly signs the PADD and hands it back. "Kathryn will be yours forever if your trick works."
"I'd accept a thank you and a nice holo of the baby," Jybara says, walking Beverly out into the main infirmary. "I'm keeping a spot on my desk free."
When Wesley was born, her desk was covered in holos. Beverly glances back at her dark office and decides her desk here has plenty of space. She bids the rest of the infirmary good bye and heads for her quarters.
Recognising the soundtrack of Dixon Hill as she walks in, Beverly smiles. "I didn't think you'd talk her into it."
"It's been very distracting." Kathryn's voice hesitates, her throat tight and strained.
Rushing from the door to the floor in front of the sofa, Beverly takes in the strength of Kathryn's grip on Jean-Luc's hand, the redness of her eyes and the lines in her forehead.
"I didn't know at first," Kathryn says, her voice soft as a child's. "I thought it would make more sense." Tears well in her eyes and Beverly kisses her fingers.
"It doesn't have to make sense."
"She's been having regular contractions for the last two hours." Jean-Luc's been watching the chronometer and Beverly nods to him.
"What are they like now?"
"Short, but tight, like I've strained the muscles." Kathryn releases Jean-Luc's hand and rests her damp fingers on Beverly's hair. "I don't know if today is the right birthday."
"It's a good day today."
"It's too close to my birthday. Three should have come last week."
"I don't think she was ready last week."
"Could be he."
Kathryn twists her mouth into one of her little half-smiles. "I guess we're finally going to know, aren't we?"
"You've wanted to know for months."
Taking a breath, Kathryn nods but frowns. "I don't know if I want to know enough."
Rocking up to her knees, Beverly meets her eyes. "This is a good thing. Labour is a the end of being pregnant. You'll be able to sleep on your stomach again and no one's going to kick you in staff meetings."
"It was the once, and you deserved it."
Swallowing her protest, Kathryn breathes through a contraction.
Beverly strokes the lines in her forehead. "Don't tense."
"I'm not tense."
"Tell that to your face."
"My face is not tense." Kathryn digs her fingers into Beverly's shoulders then releases them. "I don't mean to be."
"Relax. It's all right. You're perfectly all right. There's no right way to go into labour."
Kathryn looks to Jean-Luc, who's been at her side for the last few hours. "We should have gotten you."
"I'm here now."
"What do we do?" Kathryn asks, her focus on the task as if it's a mission.
"We wait." Beverly settles back with her hips on her heels. "Are you hungry?"
Bewildered, Kathryn contemplates the thought. "No, no, I don't think so."
"All right." Beverly rises to her feet, looking over their quarters. It's too early to fill the tub, but she and Jean-Luc will have to eat, even if Kathryn's not hungry. "Jean-Luc, would you make dinner? You and I should eat."
Sitting down next to her on the sofa, Beverly rests a hand on Kathryn's belly. "There's nothing we need to do right now unless you need something. You can drink water, juice or tea. If you're hungry, you eat. If you want to walk around a little, that might speed things up."
"So I should walk around?"
"If you feel restless, or if your contractions are too much sitting down." Waiting for her wife to look at her, Beverly feels carefully for the baby's head. "May I press a little harder?"
"In a minute, my muscles will do it for you," Kathryn takes Beverly's hand and moves it down. "I think his foot is here. He's been kicking at my ribs all day."
"Feet up is a good sign."
Kathryn nods, taking another deep breath and starting to tense.
"Don't hold your breath," Beverly says, caressing her cheek. "Breathe normally and slowly."
"I'm not holding my breath."
"You were," Jean-Luc reminds her from near the replicator.
"Because you were holding your breath," Beverly says, keeping her tone light. "You wanted something to do, didn't you? Don't hold your breath."
"I hate you."
Beverly lifts her hand and kisses it. "It's far too early for that."
"I'm going to need a head start."
Dixon Hill continues to make the city by the bay that much less a haven of villainy in the background. No one's following it but no one shuts it off. Beverly eats her sandwich slowly, proving to Kathryn that there is no hurry. Kathryn shifts from one position to another and finally moves to the rocking chair instead of the sofa.
"Why does it have to be everywhere?" Kathryn asks, handing back her glass. "If it would pick my back or my belly and just hurt there, I could manage it."
"You're doing fine," Jean-Luc says, saving Beverly the trouble.
Beverly eases Kathryn's shoulders forward, searching for pressure points. She's braided Kathryn's hair back, out of the way, but there's already sweat on her neck.
"Do you want to change?"
Lifting her head, Kathryn looks at Beverly's hand instead of all the way up at her. "Will you help?"
"What do I wear?"
"Something comfortable," Beverly says, waving Jean-Luc over from his book. He's been on the same page for nearly half an hour, but he projects calm just by holding it. "When you're ready, stand up, we'll help you."
Kathryn breathes through the next contraction. Now they're longer and she focuses better, almost as if she's taking them seriously. When it's done, she stands into Jean-Luc's hands.
"What's your book about?"
"It's a mystery novel Worf found. It's Cardassian, actually, so all the crimes are known and the mystery is when the characters will be punished by the state."
Letting Jean-Luc be the human connection, Beverly grabs her tricorder from the table and scans Kathryn's progression. Four centimetres is better than an hour ago and the baby's head is low and steady.
Kathryn stops them just outside the bedroom, her fingers tightening on Jean-Luc's arms. Beverly lets the tricorder run, recording the intensity of the contraction, both of their blood oxygen levels and the hormones running through Kathryn's veins.
When everything reads normal, Beverly opens the drawers and pulls out four different options as Kathryn stands with Jean-Luc by the bed.
"This one?" she says, offering a nightgown that's thin enough to breathe. It's not overly warm in their quarters but she remembers how hot she felt the night Wesley was born.
Kathryn feels it and shakes her head. "The pink one."
"Okay." Beverly reaches for Kathryn's blue tunic, ready to pull it up. Jean-Luc takes a step back but Kathryn shakes her head.
"You're going to see it all, might as well not worry about it." She turns her and finds his face. "It's all right."
Setting aside his concern for her privacy, Jean-Luc nods and offers his hands to steady her while Beverly strips off Kathryn's leggings.
"How did you get a Cardassian book?" The question catches in her throat but it's understandable.
"Worf received it from a friend in the Klingon Defence Force. It's rare to have a Cardassian book printed on paper, and even rarer to find one that survived the war."
Kathryn's panties are damp with fluid and there's enough on her inner thighs to make it possible that her waters are slowly leaking instead of breaking with force. Amniotic fluid takes some of the bite out of contractions and Beverly's glad Kathryn's been lucky so far. She pats Kathryn's knee and stands up.
"Your membranes are still intact."
Kathryn nods, switching her gaze from Jean-Luc to Beverly. "My legs are wet."
"Okay," Kathryn repeats, smiling. "Everything's okay."
"You're good at this."
She steps forward, resting her head on Jean-Luc's chest as her breathing deepens through the contraction. He holds still and firm. Beverly squeezes his shoulder and collects Kathryn's clothing for the laundry.
"Do you want to stay walking or go back to the chair?"
"Walking means it'll go faster?"
"Walking sometimes helps, but if you're tired you don't have to."
Reaching across Jean-Luc's hand, Kathryn beckons Beverly over. "I'm not tired."
"Then we'll walk."
Beverly remembers snatches of walking with Jack when Wesley was born. She doesn't think she was as focused as Kathryn. Her mind wandered more. It might be different, being on the outside, but she wants to say she's right. Beverly was so young when Wesley was born, she'd barely assisted with more than a handful of deliveries and her own was so different than she imagined in small ways. She wasn't hungry, she didn't blame Jack and her transition was more frustrating than anything else. Nothing was right then, not Jack, not her midwife or the apartment, nothing. Once she was pushing, everything was right again and Wesley explained everything with his arrival. Holding him was the answer.
There's a different intimacy to this than she felt with Jack. Giving birth sank her further into her psyche than she's ever been, as if everything but the very centre of her wasn't important.
Kathryn pushes against her, leaning forward with her head on Beverly's shoulder. Jean-Luc steadies her hips, his hands ready. She meets Jean-Luc's eyes occasionally and they have the slow kind of conversation that takes an hour to make the simplest point around short demands to stay where they are or for water.
Kathryn's words start to leave her as she passes seven centimetres, as if speech has been dilated away. Beverly has to be closer to her eyes for Kathryn to acknowledge her, but she responds to their touch. Hands on her belly frustrate her but fists are her back take some of the ragged edge off her breathing. When her groans are more pained, Beverly sends Jean-Luc to fill the tub.
Getting Kathryn into it will be easier before she hits transition and though she's declined the last few times Beverly offered, this time she nods. Steps into the pool guide her up and steps inside guide her down. Kathryn's breathing is quick and shallow before the water but when she climbs in it slows. A few minutes later she opens her eyes wider than they've been for some time.
Leaning over the edge, Beverly holds out her hands. The water bouys up her arms, making them weightless as Kathryn's takes them. "You're doing great."
"What time is it?"
Beverly has no idea and Jean-Luc's the one to check.
"Just after twenty-two-hundred."
Looking to Beverly, Kathryn smiles before she can say it. "Everything's fine."
Beverly circles the tub and settles down by the side, so her head's just next to Kathryn's. The water sloshes as Kathryn moves, bending her legs with her knees below her hips.
"Dim the lights," she says to Jean-Luc when he brings her a chair. She's sore in strange places, and leaning over for the next few hours might leave knots in her back. She'll have to remember to stretch occasionally.
The lights sink around them, leaving the glow of the stars outside. Kathryn rests her forehead against Beverly's arm, moaning through the contraction. She shifts, moving her feet to a better position. Beverly follows her around the edge, keeping her face close so Kathryn can still see her. Reminding herself of all the advice she's dispensed to partners, Beverly assists in Kathryn ignoring her and concentrates on being present when required.
Jean-Luc switches places with her when her arms are sore, which also lets her take the time to pee and drink some coffee. The bottle of wine he promised Kathryn earlier this week sits on the table, corkscrew beside it. Beverly runs a tricorder scan through the wall of the tub and depends on the backlight of the tricorder to read it.
Eight point three centimetres and Kathryn's contractions follow each other in swift procession. Her moaning deepens, sinking further into her chest and starting to sound primal and urgent. Jean-Luc sits by the birthing pool, hands extended over the side while Beverly readies what they need for the baby. She stacks towels and blankets on the table and takes out the clamps and laser scalpel. Her tricorder's up to eight-point-nine when she's done and Kathryn tugs her hand down into the water.
Her fingers are tight and wet, holding on to Beverly's arm at the wrist. When Beverly strokes Kathryn's hand with her left, Kathryn turns her head and rediscovers her at the edge of the pool. The rhythm of Kathryn's breath falters and Beverly leads her, controlling her own. Jean-Luc stands behind her, a vigilant fetcher of glasses of water and cups of tea. He picks up his book only to set it down. When Kathryn passes nine centimetres, Jean-Luc stopped worrying about keeping his distance and sits near the pool next to Beverly, sharing the intimacy of the water.
It's too dark to see much in detail. Kathryn's nightgown floats amorphous and pink in the water; her hair sticks to itself in the braid and floats just off of her neck. She leans back, then forwards, curling around the ball of her belly. It's smaller now; most of the amniotic fluid is gone. When her belly contracts, more muscles find purchase and the optimism of her second wind waits for second stage.
"When she's ready to push, we'll know," she answers Jean-Luc. His chest is wet, and his thin undershirt clings to his skin. His eyes only hold wonder and Beverly envies his patience. She wants to hold Three, to tell her how much she's loved and wanted.
The tricorder reports ten point one centimetres and beeps, content that a goal has been accomplished. Kathryn still circles the tub, stopping for a contraction that seems less violent than the last. She lifts her eyes from the water like a mermaid rising from the deep.
"Beverly, I- I have to--"
"Wait for the contraction, push with it."
Clinging to the side with her shoulders against it, Kathryn rises against the wall. Her legs are open and the shape of the baby is all the way down in her hips. She moans as the contraction starts, turning the sound into a hiss as she starts to push. She slides down a little against the wall and Beverly looks at her position for an instant before she decides to climb in with her. She needs to be with her.
Taking off her socks startles Jean-Luc, who then understands.
"If I get in with her I can help keep her in the right position." Beverly drops her trousers to the floor by the pool and climbs in. The warm water cocoons her, holding her up. Kathryn stares at her, then pushes off the side, grabbing her tight in the centre of the pool. The shift of weight splashes inside the pool, even teases the edges, but Beverly isn't worried. She slips between Kathryn and the wall, holding on to it while Kathryn sits on her lap, letting herself be held against Beverly's body.
Kathryn starts to tense as the contraction starts and Beverly murmurs to her to relax, to breathe into it instead of against it. From behind her, Beverly can't see but she feels the tension in Kathryn's back soften against her.
"Beverly?" Jean-Luc draws her attention up from the little world of water and Kathryn's body against hers.
"A little blood is normal," she says, breathing slow and loud against Kathryn's ear.
His eyes are too wide for a little blood but his face lights with a grin she's only ever seen a handful of times before.
"I see the head."
"Kathryn, you can reach down and feel for the head."
Her gasp of surprise carries; Beverly releases the wall and holds Kathryn just beneath the arms.
"Almost there. A few more pushes like that and we'll have the baby."
This time Kathryn groans all the way through, bearing down into her hips. She pushes again, panting in the space between. Straightening up against Beverly's chest, Kathryn leans in and lifts her hands back towards the edge, pushing until she breaks, gasping for new breath.
"I see- shoulders, I see the shoulders."
Beverly can't see from where she is and Jean-Luc has to lean close to the water.
"Kathryn, one more push and we'll have the baby. One more, you can do it. Take your time. When you're ready." For a last moment, there's only the three of them in the room. Kathryn's deep groan of effort ends in a sob and she shudders against Beverly's chest.
Jean-Luc's voice breaks the quiet, thick and deep in his throat. "I see feet."
Reaching down, Kathryn grabs the baby, lifting her - or him- up to the surface. A moment, and eternity later, the baby takes a breath. It's a tiny gasp but it's his - her- Beverly corrects herself, first breath on her own.
Kathryn catches her breath with the baby clutched tight to her chest. Jean-Luc has tears in his eyes as he leans over the side. Beverly wraps her arms around them both, Kathryn and the baby, and beams across at him.
"Three's a girl."
Kathryn pulls the baby from her chest and looks her over, making sure. "Three's a girl." She stares down, forgetting Beverly, Jean-Luc and the rest of the universe out past the baby.
Kissing the back of her neck, Beverly watches her wife for a few stolen moments. Her eyes sting and she could levitate out of the water if she needed to. Instead, she kisses Kathryn's cheek and slips past her and out of the water. Standing dripping on the floor, she reaches for the tricorder. Three's already starting to pink up against Kathryn's chest. Most of the blood and mucus has been washed into the water yet patches of vernix cling to her skin.
Her hands are still wet when she grabs the patient tricorder. The half-hearted mewling of the baby is softer than the hum of the tricorder but Kathryn doesn't hear the latter.
Jean-Luc turns to her, wonder etched on his face. "They're both all right."
"Of course they are," she says, reaching for his shoulder. "Don't tell me you had doubts, Jean-Luc?"
He grabs her arm, just above the elbow and holds her tight.
"I--" He clears his throat, eyes gleaming in the weak light. "Doubt is the wrong word."
"They're both fine. Kathryn's blood pressure is right where it should be. Three's vital signs are all exactly where they should be. Perfect."
Nodding, Jean-Luc rests his head against her side, almost embracing her from where he sits. Sodden and damp, his grey undershirt clings to his chest. Shifting towards him, she hugs him close. For a moment the scent of him overwhelms the faint coppery smell of birth in the air.
"She's so small."
"Wait to you hold her," she teases.
She sets the tricorder down, satisfied with both Kathryn and the baby. The tricorder wants to give three an Apgar of eight, but Beverly will put nine in the record. Tricorders don't understand the perfect blue of newborn eyes. Three's fist flops against Kathryn's cheek on an uncontrolled arm.
Crouching down in front of the tub, Beverly strokes Three's foot. Vernix, soft and sticky, comes off on her fingers and Kathryn frowns at it.
"I keep worrying she's dirty, but she can't be, can she?"
"She's not dirty," Beverly reminds her, smiling. "Are you cold?"
The question washes over her, almost as if Beverly had asked in Romulan. Letting it go, Beverly touches Three's lips. Her sucking reflex pulls at her finger and Beverly meets Kathryn's eyes.
"See if she'll nurse."
Kathryn glances helplessly down at her breasts and laughs. "How do I?"
Guiding Kathryn's hands, Beverly cups the back of the baby's head. Her hair is sparse and sticky from birth, but even in the weak light it's red. Kathryn's hair has hints of red and once, a long time ago, Jean-Luc was teased in school for being ginger.
"She has red hair."
"Red?" Kathryn asks, peering over the head at her breast. Her curiosity distracts her and the sudden latching of Three to her breast draws a gasp. "How red?"
"Redder than I thought."
Jean-Luc follows Beverly's attention, any thoughts of Kathryn's modesty forgotten, and she wants to hug him again. He's in the moment with them, wrapped in the wonder of downy red hair plastered wet to bright skin.
Kathryn holds her close, smiling down at the baby before she drags her eyes up for them. "She tugs."
"How can she be hungry?"
Beverly runs her fingers over Three's head, the shape moulded by the birth canal. "It's hard work to be born, even on her side of things."
"We should celebrate," Jean-Luc says, as if the thought's just dropped out of warp. He wipes his hands uselessly on his shirt and heads for the bottle of wine he promised Kathryn. The pop of the cork carries through the quiet and Kathryn beams at her wife.
Chuckling, Beverly nods. "You can drink wine."
"Well, little bird," Kathryn mutters to the baby, "your birthday just keeps getting better."
"When you're ready, you two should get out of the water and I need to check the placenta."
Kathryn follows what she can see of the cord with her eyes. "We're attached."
"You'll always been attached," Beverly says, cupping Kathryn's cheek. "There's no hurry."
Jean-Luc sets glasses of wine on the table and returns to Beverly, his gaze back on the baby.
Kathryn fixes Beverly in her gaze, suddenly serious. "If you cut the cord, you two can hold her. I want you to hold her."
"Let her finish," Beverly says, standing so she has enough space to lean down and kiss her. "We're right here."
"What time is it? Were we keeping track?"
Beverly tilts her head towards the tricorder and Jean-Luc retrieves it. "The tricorder was."
"What's the stardate? Does Three have a good birthday?"
Jean-Luc hides a yawn with the back of his hand. "Five seven four three nine point three-" he pauses, reading the tricorder again. "Four, by just over two hours."
"Almost three," Beverly says, catching the chronometer on the wall panel.
"I can't tell if I want to sleep for days or play velocity. I'll finally have my balance back."
Three releases Kathryn's breast and wriggles back. Beverly reaches into the water, guiding Kathryn's hands and the baby so she can cut the umbilical cord with the laser scalpel. A single flash of light and Kathryn and Three are free.
"Can you grab one of the blankets for her, Jean-Luc?" He nudges her shoulder and she lifts their daughter from the water.
Kathryn holds the loose end of the cord, studying the still vein running through. "I miss her already."
Unaccustomed to being dry, or the feel of fabric, Three fusses, threatening to cry.
Beverly kisses her forehead, hushing her before she looks to Jean-Luc, whose eyes are wide with surprise. "I need you to hold her while I help Kathryn. Hold her, talk to her, she'll like that."
She hands the squirming baby over and watches Jean-Luc stare down at the infinite potential of their daughter. Wesley was barely much older when he held him but the fear has softened. Three stops testing her voice and uses her eyes instead, fixing on his face and staring.
Kathryn grabs Beverly's hand, squeezing it tight. "We did it."
Brushing Kathryn's wet hair back from her forehead, Beverly smirks. "You did it."
"With you. You were here, both of you," she leaves her mouth open, as if there's something else she means to say. "I love you," she finishes, finding the words as if they're a fresh discovery. "I love you, all of you."
Leaning down, Beverly kisses her, saving Kathryn from her confusion. "Let's get out of the water."
Kathryn delivers the placenta into a bowl, then splits her fascination between the biology of birth and Jean-Luc and the baby, enraptured in each other. Beverly checks the placenta, running her hands over the once-vital tissues that are no longer needed.
Leaning against her shoulder, Kathryn watches Beverly's hands, taking slow sips of her glass of wine. "What does it feel like?"
"Warm, tough, smooth, this side was attached to you-" Beverly lifts it to show the rough maternal side, then turns it in her hands, "this side was Three's and it's all here so I'm happy."
Kathryn sets down her wine and reaches for it, stroking it as if thanking a horse for a good ride. Beverly runs the sonic cleanser over their hands and sets the placenta aside.
"I like you being happy." Kathryn toys with Beverly's hair, which is damp and falling free.
"I'm incredibly happy."
Kathryn kisses her, then pats her cheek. "When do we start talking about Four?"
Jean-Luc swallows a chuckle. "What's the rush?"
Helping Kathryn into her pyjamas, Beverly smirks. "She's curious."
"Of course I am!" Kathryn finds her feet with a wince, but she's steady and grabs her wine. "I couldn't see anything."
Beverly follows her into the bedroom, waving Jean-Luc in after them. Together, they get Kathryn settled on the bed and Three, now asleep, doesn't even shift as she moves through their hands.
Kathryn pats the bed next to herself. "Don't you just want to watch her to see if she'll move?"
"I think her hair's red."
Sipping more of her wine than she intended, Beverly lets the swallow warm her and grins. "It is red."
"Was your hair red?" Kathryn demands, reaching for the neat white hair that circles the back of his head.
"It was, once."
"Pheobe's is so dark," Kathryn says, patting the back of his neck. "I thought Three would look like her. If she's a red head, she'll look like Beverly."
Beverly winks at him instead of mentioning genetics. "Three will have beautiful hair."
"What are you calling her?" Jean-Luc asks, lifting his attention from one of Three's tiny, perfect ears. "Have you decided?"
"Yes," Beverly says.
"Not really," Kathryn says over her. "We're not sure."
"But--" Kathryn sighs. "Beverly wants Elsa Yvette."
"Yvette for your mother," Beverly adds over her wine.
"And Elsa's from my family," Kathryn says, resting her hand on Three's belly. "Beverly's not in it."
"You'd rather Three had a name from Beverly's family?"
"I think she should be in Three's name somehow. Three already has my name."
Beverly shrugs. "So do I."
"Can't you choose something you like? Felisa or Melisa, Isabel--"
"Three is not a Felisa, nor do I think she's an Isabel. Look at her."
"She could be an Isabel."
"I like Elsa. It's strong and Yvette was important to Jean-Luc."
"I'm not against Yvette!" Kathryn argues, crossing her arms over her chest. "I want you to pick Three's first name."
"I chose Elsa."
"You chose it because it's from my family."
"I chose it because I like it. Elsa Janeway has a ring to it."
"I don't want a ring."
"I want you to choose!"
Beverly takes Kathryn's hand and kisses the back of it, trying to calm her. "I choose Elsa, and, Kathryn, dear, that's her name."
Kathryn turns to Jean-Luc who raises both hands in surrender.
"I thought calling her Three for the next few years might be nice."
Kathryn narrows her eyes. "I hate you both."
Beverly swirls her wine, then lifts the glass towards Kathryn. "I'm putting Elsa on her birth certificate."
"I'll refuse to approve it for transmission."
"You don't have to approve it, it's a medical report."
"It's my station, and I have to approve."
"Everything," Kathryn repeats. "Especially my daughter's name!"
"You don't approve?"
"So you don't like Elsa?"
"I love Elsa," Kathryn replies, dropping her head to Beverly's shoulder. "She's beautiful and it's a pretty name and my mother will be so happy and my grandmother would have loved the idea and I--"
"Say you'll approve."
"I want you to be part of her name." Her voice halts, rough in her throat.
"I am part of her name," Beverly assures her. "I'm her mother. I'm part of every bit of her life, especially her name."
Leaning close to her, Kathryn nods. Tears glisten in her eyelashes and Jean-Luc pats her shoulder.
"It's a lovely name."
"It is," Kathryn says, daubing her eyes. "It is." She takes a breath, then kisses Beverly's forehead, just above the eyebrow. "I love you."
"I love you."
"I love you." Beverly finishes the last of her wine and lies back, watching Kathryn and Jean-Luc examine every nanometre of the sleeping baby. Exhaustion creeps over her, sinking warm into her euphoria like a hot bath.
Kathryn's so full of hormones that she's nearly buzzing with life and Jean-Luc's awestruck, more enraptured with Elsa than he was of the new Enterprise.
After a last tricorder scan of them both, Beverly lets the wine go to her head, allowing her eyelids to creep lower. Elsa's only an arm length away, Kathryn didn't even tear and the softness of the bed reminds her that she'll be sore.
She lets sleep come, listening to Kathryn murmuring to Elsa as the baby sleeps beside them. She could warn Kathryn to sleep while she can, but that would ruin the quiet. They'll wake later, when Elsa wants to feed again, but now her tiny eyes stare up, as if she can see past her mother off into the stars.
When Kathryn finally lies down beside her, she curls against Beverly, one hand on her, the other near the baby. Half-waking, Beverly just glimpses the smile resting on Kathryn's lips as if it never plans to leave.
Elsa, safe, with a whole universe waiting for her, sleeps on.