Of course, Beverly could count on him to be her rescuer. There were few situations where Jean-Luc Picard refused the opportunity to be a white knight, and since trashy detective novels were entirely within his dignity, epic medieval plots had to be as well. She didn't mean to get into as much trouble as she had. Given the many options of starting character, she'd chosen the Highgarden as a home and Tyrell as her house. Though she had been tempted by the wilderness of Dorne, the even wilder Iron Islands and the quiet isolation of the North, she'd given in to the greenery and the promise of roses.
She saw so few roses on the Enterprise that she'd earned some holographic ones.
However, in the archaic setting, she wasn't allowed to rule her own lands, her husband had perished of his wounds (not that she minded that terribly, he was a bit of a braggart. The holodeck had been slightly too realistic when it came to the infection that consumed his flesh, but as a noble lady, she'd been able to avoid getting too close. That was a little too much like her career. Nana's roots and herbs were less than helpful on the fictional planet where the summers lasted for years and winter loomed over them all like an executioner.
She had to remarry. Her options were: a young Dornish prince who would let her keep her titles and lands but inevitably offend the insufferable Lannister woman who held the crown prince in her claws; a steely man from the Stormlands with a rigid but honourable reputation; courting the Blackfish of the Riverlands, who'd forsworn marriage decades ago; or marrying the Lannister brother, a dwarf with a keen mind who would never be able to take her dancing. All of them might be insufferable, but she stood a good chance of convincing Jean-Luc to join her as her paramour.
Beverly had spent time convincing him it was an engaging and complex story. She'd even left the novel in his quarters, knowing he'd pick up the PADD and curiosity would insist he read it eventually.
With the Blackfish, the Lobster and the dwarf her best choices, she gave up and begged.
"Please, Jean-Luc, the computer will assign you a character and you'll be able to keep my house from falling into famine and ruin. Think of my children."
"I had several with my late husband. A clever young man with a crippled leg, a great bear of a knight, a knight of flowers and a witty young woman I'm going to have to marry off."
Jean-Luc frowned over his cards. "I thought you said your daughter was fourteen."
"And who would I portray in this medieval world?"
"You can choose. The computer suggested Sir Brynden of House Tully, a brilliant military tactician of dark temperament whose sworn off marriage and Lord Stannis Baratheon, another cold mind but a deeply intelligent, honourable man."
"What happened to the one from the North? Stoic--"
"Lord Stark! Yes, I thought you approved of Lord Stark."
"He's already married."
"And the blackfish and this Stannis are not?"
"What about the imp?"
Beverly grinned and set her hand on the table. "Three nines." She folded her hands and waited. He wouldn't be able to beat her.
"Two pair." Jean-Luc leaned forward, collecting the cards. "You don't want me to play the imp?"
"I don't think you'd enjoy the holodeck making you think you were a meter tall."
"Stannis is married, but the holodeck will write out his wife if I ask it too. The computer writes her out by letting her have a moment of conversion to another faith and leave the continent. I checked."
Jean-Luc started to shuffle, grinning. "You peeked."
"Just at the biographical algorithms."
"Lord Baratheon has a castle?"
"Do I get a dragon?"
Beverly picked up her cards and studied them. "There's rumours of dragons in the east."
"I told you. I only looked at the character algorithms."
"And you're halfway through the first book?"
"It's just started to get interesting. Lady Stark kidnapped the imp because she thinks he tried to kill her son. She's taken him to the Eyrie, a great castle up on the mountains and the Queen's in a rage."
"The imp is her brother?"
"I think it's more the principle of the thing than any familial affection."
"Do I have to propose in a grand fashion?"
"Oh no, I think you just send a note tied to a raven and then turn up with a cloak for the occasion."
She dealt another hand and threw in her ante. "The man takes off his bride's cloak and replaces it with one from his house. It's all very civilised."
"And you'd come to the Dragonstone?"
"Oh no, there's another brother to rule the Dragonstone. You'd come to Highgarden."
"Your castle," he said, dealing another hand after he lost again. "After I come to your castle then what?"
"We see what happens with Lady Stark and the angry queen. We plot and scheme and try not to end up on the wrong side of a rebellion."
"Which is the right side?"
Beverly stood, patting his shoulder as she headed for the replicator. "I have no idea. That's part of the fun. Tomorrow, holodeck three, right after dinner. Bring a bridal cloak."
Jean-Luc turned in his chair. "I assume the computer will know what I need."
"I hope you like the stag."
"Direwolf, and no, not unless you want to restart as the Starks."
"You thought about playing them, as I recall."
"They are the centre of most of the action, but I didn't feel like playing the side with terrible weather."
He accepted his tea graciously and returned her smile. "Highgarden sounds like a verdant place."
Jean-Luc reached across the table, taking her hand. "Then I accept your proposal, fair Lady of Highgarden."
She squeezed his in response. "Good. I think you'll love it. So much intrigue--"
"And backstabbing, betrayal and disloyalty."
"As pulpy as a detective novel."
"We'll see about that."
Leather creaked when he knelt down beside her to receive the blessing of the seven gods. Jean-Luc took his character seriously, keeping his eyes lowered as their hands were bound together with the ribbons in the colour of both of their houses: green and gold for Tyrell and yellow and black for Baratheon. The feast was tame in comparison with the feats in the tales. Jean-Luc's character was known for his brusqueness and seventy-seven courses wouldn't be right. The computer did serve seven of them, including two fish courses and apple tart: the pride of Highgarden.
Jean-Luc leaned across, resting his hand on her shoulder. The heat of his fingers seeped through the silk of her dress. "If we're going to keep eating like this, I won't have to eat lunch during my shift."
"Just this once. Most of the meals I've had have been much simpler." She lifted a fork of chestnut stuffing and held it up for him. "This is exquisite."
"Apparently, you have a good chef."
"I'll share him with you when you move in."
Jean-Luc laughed, lifting his goblet. "This marriage is going to work out in my best interest isn't it."
"At least in terms of food and lands."
"That man, my brother-" he said, pointing down the table to the younger man. "Seems to have his eye on your daughter."
"Of course he does. She's exquisite." She leaned in, resting her forehead against his. "I think we should make an offer to the Stark boy."
"Oh? Playing the game now are we?"
"That's the point of isn't it?"
He nodded his thanks to a servant bringing them fresh wine. This time it was an Arbor Gold, the wine most from her house's own prised vineyards.
Beverly smiled at the cup. "I could learn to like being the one with the vines."
"We shall see if it measures up to Chateau Picard."
"You say that as if anything ever does."
He chuckled, waving his appreciation to the entertainment. The musicians below began another tune, this one more romantic and obviously designed for them.
"I assume if we have to dance, you'll guide me through."
"Of course, my lord husband. It simply wouldn't do to have you falter."
"Are there any other customs regarding dance I should be aware of?" He stood, waiting behind her for her to stand and take his hand. The formality of the feudal society suited him, as did the dark tunic he wore. Beverly took his hand and stood, her silk flowing down around her ankles.
"Nothing too complicated," she said, aligning his hands with hers. "There is one more thing we have to do, but it shouldn't be too terrible."
He raised an eyebrow. She wouldn't have trusted him, if their position were reversed. The last time she'd been in one of his Dixon Hill novels she'd ended up playing the dominatrix, complete with whip, while he took his sweet time searching the mobster's office.
They circled each other, she curtsied and then rose to take both of his hands. He watched the men beside him in the line, following their movements and Beverly's cues as the dance continued. When she put his hands on her waist, he fell half a beat behind as he watched all the other men lift their partners towards the ceiling. His hands were strong on her waist, and she was sure he'd be right on with the next lift. He'd always been a fast learner.
Beverly landed lightly and bowed her head to him. "Fun, isn't it?"
"How all of this pageantry can hide such dark souls--" he said, letting the thought end there.
"I think we should marry Margaery to the Stark boy. You'd approve of the Starks far more than your brother."
"My brother the king, with his lecherous reputation or my other brother, who seems to be more in love with his knight."
Beverly leaned close as they turned again, his breath against her cheek. "I don't mind him being in love with his knight, I'd just rather my- our- daughter has a chance to know love with her husband. I worry that marrying Margaery to Renly will leave her without that chance."
"What of the Stark fortunes? Will she be safe there?"
"Lord Stark is Hand of the King, the most powerful position in the land, save his majesty himself."
"But nothing can be trusted, can it?"
"You're catching on."
"Dix would call this a snake pit with too many vipers for it's own good."
"I think our poor detective would wear himself out here. The intrigue is thicker than the gravy on that pheasant."
She'd forgotten to tell him about something. He most likely hadn't read that far into the book and Beverly had just taking a breath to explain what would happen when, cutting in through the moment's pause in the dance when Lord Renly grabbed her. His touch wasn't harsh and his laughter softened the surprise of being pulled from Jean-Luc.
"Time to put you to bed, isn't it, my brother?" Renly shot Jean-Luc a teasing glance then tugged the laces on the front of Beverly's gown.
Jean-Luc started towards her but was caught by her sisters, her daughter, her mother - Lady Olenna, and the rest of the ladies present.
"Oh no dear, you can't help her now." Lady Olenna reached straight for his trousers, then coyly undid his belt. "Off to bed with the pair of them. I can't wait to see what the Stag brought to offer my dearest daughter."
Jean-Luc flushed and cleared his throat. "Beverly--"
"Computer, freeze programme," Beverly said, taking a step back away from a leal lord's reaching hand. "I may have forgotten a certain tradition."
"It seems so."
"After the wedding, a married couple is stripped by their family and friends and put into the bedchamber in their underclothes."
Jean-Luc lifted his eyes from the floor, cheered by the thought. "Not naked?"
"No, not entirely naked. More like all but naked."
"And you thought we should go through with it because?"
Beverly shrugged, folding her arms over her recently loosened bodice. "I forgot. We can skip ahead to the end of the chapter." She straightened up and called for the arch, but he cut her off.
"We might miss a clue," Jean-Luc said.
"Something might be said in the chaos of undressing us. A little embarrassment now could lead to a valuable bit of intrigue."
Beverly turned, hands on her hips. "You want to let the holographic court undress us and send us to bed together?"
Eyes gleaming, he smirked at her. "We don't have to if you're not comfortable--"
"This is payback for Betazed, isn't?"
He wrapped one of the golden laces holding her bodice together and tugged, loosening it even further. "I haven't the slightest idea what you mean."
"Of course you don't." Beverly glanced down at her gown. She did have considerably more to take off than he did, which was a point in her favour. Some of the lords around her definitely knew how to strip a lady, probably from all the practice they had with ladies of the evening, but Jean-Luc had the Queen of Thorns to deal with. He was still staring her down, waiting for her to flinch and admit that being locked in a bedchamber with him, nearly naked, was unappealing.
Or possibly he was waiting for her to admit just how appealing it was.
She said nothing of the sort. "Computer, resume."
Lord Redwine knelt to remove her shoes, sneaking in to stroke her ankle. Jean-Luc left his boots in the great hall and she heard the clink of his belt on the other stairway as they raced each other up. She lost track of who was removing what and ceased resisting as they headed up the stairs. Keeping pace was easier in less layers of gown and the synthehol heat from all the wine at dinner kept her warm. The last piece of her bodice fell, glittering and forlorn, at the door to the bedchamber.
Jean-Luc tumbled through the door a moment later, down to a loincloth. He shook his head, chuckling. "Now what?"
"Did you collect any clues?"
He took a throw from the bed, wrapping the green and gold of House Tyrell around his bare shoulders. "Maybe I did." He poured her some of the water thoughtfully left in the room and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. "Did you?"
"I've decided Lord Renly should not be married to our daughter. A more boisterous girl would suit him better. Margery's too clever."
"She does seem to be quite intelligent," he said, heading for the bed as it was the only place to sit down.
Clad only in a shift, Beverly sat next to him. "You didn't have to go through that."
"Neither did you. Yet, here we are."
"Here we are..." Beverly dragged her hand thoughtfully across the bed. "We have just under an hour of holodeck time left. We should plan our proposal to Lord Stark."
"Or consult Margaery's opinion in the matter."
Somehow, they'd ended up leaning far too close to each other. For a blissful moment, Beverly imagined what her character felt, marrying a relative stranger to cement a necessary alliance. One who was attractive and kind would be the best kind of match. Falling in love might have been easy, were he a stranger. It was their histories, shared and separate that made this so hard.
"We don't have to--" he said, offering her a quiet evening spent talking in front of the fire.
She glanced at the flames. Shadows played on the floor, the heavy scent of woodsmoke filled the air and stilted laughter carried through the door. It would be easily to be carried away. That was the promise of the holodeck: fantasy without repercussions.
"We don't." She slid the blanket from his shoulder, letting it slip down his back. "We're too good at what we have to do, aren't we?"
He didn't stop her. She wasn't sure if she would have let him or if she wished he'd fought harder. She rested her hand on his chest. Leaning in to kiss him, Beverly knew he'd need the invitation. Though he'd rescue her from herself, he wouldn't unless she asked.
"I'm going to kiss you."
The last time she'd kissed him, it had been just off of his mouth. Their relationship had followed suit, just off of truly connected. This, finally, was dead on.