The year is 2344.
Jean-Luc walked her home that night, a favor to Jack who was late for his duty watch. The Stargazer was making a rare stop at Earth between missions, and the three friends had taken advantage of the opportunity. Of course, the evening had come to an abrupt end when Jack had realized he was late for his watch shift on the bridge.
He had glared at his friend and captain as they had hastily paid their bar tab. "Why didn't you remind me?"
Jean-Luc had held up his hands. "You think I know who's on watch when? I barely know when I'm supposed to be there!"
Beverly had just laughed at both of them.
The walk back to her dorm was pleasant enough, but Beverly could feel the underlying tension between them. She and Jean-Luc had not spent much time together without Jack, and she was beginning to understand why they both - whether consciously or unconsciously - had avoided it.
She paused on the low step in front of her building and turned to thank her friend. He took a step closer and she was surprised to see she was now on a level with him.
"Beverly. . ." The plea in his voice was obvious.
Beverly closed her eyes against the longing look he was giving her. "We can't."
"I know, you're Jack's girl. I know it in my head, but in here," he pointed to his heart, "you'll always be mine." He caressed her cheek, and his finger left a trail of fire. "I'll wait for you, Beverly. Forever."
With a small cry, she turned and fled into the safety of her dorm, away from his touch, away from the tingle in the pit of her stomach, away from temptation.
She tossed and turned restlessly in bed, and was already half awake when Jack let himself into her room many hours later. She threw herself at him and cried into his chest. He simply held her, rubbing her back, until her hysterics subsided into mere sobs.
"Shhhh, shhhh. It's okay, Bev. It's okay."
"It's not. You don't know what happened - "
" - When Jean-Luc walked you home this evening? I do."
"I do," Jack said firmly, and moved them both to the bed. "He told me."
"He told you?"
"You're starting to sound like a Rigellian parrot," he teased gently. Then he became serious again. "He told me. He's my best friend, sweetheart, and I am his. We tell each other most things. And on a starship, there aren't very many secrets. Secrets can kill out there."
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"For what? Did you actually do anything that you need to be sorry for?"
"Well, no, not really, but - "
"But nothing. Bev, I'm not going to blame you for something you didn't do. Any more than I'm going to blame Jean-Luc. After all, I can hardly fault his taste in women, now can I? Look at me, please?" Jack asked, and tilted Beverly's face up so that he could look her in the eye. His hand was warm against her cheek, a gentle, encompassing warmth, so different than Jean-Luc's burning touch.
"I love you," he said. "Do you love me?"
"Of course I do."
"And will you deliberately do anything to jeopardize our relationship?"
"No, no I couldn't do that to you."
"Then there is no problem. Come on, let's get some sleep. I have to be back on the ship at 1300 for a meeting, and I know you have several problem sets to do."
As they lay in the dark, Beverly clung to Jack's solid form, taking comfort in the warmth and shelter he provided. It was almost enough to ease her fears and quiet her mind. Almost.
Jean-Luc avoided the couple for nearly the rest of the leave, only joining them for dinner on the final day. What remaining tension there might have been was dispelled after several stories about some of the more undignified positions that both Jack and Jean-Luc had found themselves in, and Beverly did her best to put events behind her.
When the Stargazer shipped out again, Beverly threw herself into her course work with renewed vigor and half-heartedly tried to convince herself that the whole situation was just the product of her over-worked, under-slept imagination.
She very nearly succeeded until an unexpected summons threw her whole world into confusion.
The message itself was perfectly innocent. Her advisor requested to meet with her at 1500. Fair enough. Beverly could think of any number of reasons that Dr. Li would need to see her.
It wasn't until she arrived at the office and found Dr. Li's chair occupied by someone else entirely that she realized there was more going on than a simple meeting.
The woman in the chair sat with a calm elegance. Her white hair stood out brightly against her dark skin and the black of her uniform, which was adorned on the sleeve with captain's stripes. Seeing that, Beverly threw a hasty salute.
"At ease, Cadet Howard. Thank you for coming, although I do apologize for the deception."
"Thank you, sir." Beverly's voice lifted up at the end, almost but not quite a question. The Captain looked familiar, but she couldn't place her.
"Captain Nyota Uhura, Starfleet Intelligence. You are entering your third year at the Medical Academy, correct?"
"Let's see, if I recall correctly, that means that you will be choosing your areas of specialization soon, will you not?"
"Yes, sir. At the moment, I believe I will be choosing cybernetics and virology."
Uhura tapped a few things into her PADD. "That's a rather unusual combination."
Beverly shrugged defensively and Uhura smiled. "Don't worry, Cadet. You're not in any trouble." Beverly smiled back tentatively.
"It's what I'm interested in. Well, I'm interested in a lot of things really. But I feel like those will give me the best grounding for being a ship's doctor."
"So that's what you want to do, then? Join one of our ships and explore the galaxy? A ship like, perhaps, the Stargazer?"
Beverly's face immediately assumed what some of her friends called her "professionally neutral" mask. She hadn't perfected it yet, the way some of their teachers had, but she was getting there. "Perhaps."
"And that choice has nothing to do with wanting to join that ship's up-and-coming science officer or the captain?"
Beverly bit down hard on her tongue, stopping the first three responses that popped into her head. "I will serve where I am assigned," she said finally.
Uhura smiled faintly. "A well chosen answer. Tell me, Cadet, what do you know of Starfleet Intelligence?"
"Not much beyond what they tell us in the introductory courses. It is the information gathering arm of Starfleet command, largely autonomous, dedicated to the protection of the Federation from threats both external and internal." Beverly frowned slightly, unsure as to the direction the conversation was going. Was she being recruited?
"Correct in the main, if a bit scant in the particulars. But no matter. I presume you have heard of the loss of the Enterprise?"
Caught off guard by the abrupt change in direction that the conversation had just taken, Beverly couldn't stop a wince. "Yes, sir. It was terrifying. I can only hope their sacrifice will do some good. Another war with the Klingons would be disastrous. Especially with - " She stopped and snapped her mouth shut. Jack and Jean-Luc probably hadn't been supposed to tell her half the things that they told her, and damned if she was going to get them in trouble.
"Especially with what, Cadet?" The Captain's look seemed to pin Beverly into her seat and demand answers.
"Especially with - " Beverly stopped herself again and swallowed hard. "Per-permission to speak freely?"
"Granted. As I said before, you are not in any trouble, Cadet. Nor are the two gentlemen who are so taken with you."
Beverly felt her face heat up and not for the first time cursed her fair complexion. "Especially with the rumblings that - people - are hearing along Cardassian space."
Uhura leaned forward. "And that, Cadet, is why I - why we - need you. For just that sort of information."
"About the Cardassians?" Beverly asked, bewildered. The conversation was moving in too many different directions for her to follow.
"This time, it's the Cardassians. Next time it might be the Romulans, or even the Klingons again. The point is, you have the ears, and trust, the confidence, and dare I say the hearts, of two of our best young officers."
Beverly set her jaw. "I will not spy on one of my dearest friends or the man who may very well be my husband some day. Sir."
"And I'm not asking you to," Uhura replied sharply. Then her tone softened and she spoke earnestly. "But, Cadet - Beverly - you are in an invaluable position for us. They will tell you things, not just about what they hear, but about what they observe and what conclusions they are coming to, based on their experiences out there. And that is information that we need badly."
"But - I thought - don't all Captains and department heads send back regular reports?"
"Sanitized drivel, meant only to fill the databases of the mid-level bureaucracy," Uhura said dismissively. "There are few nuggets of true information in any of those reports, and by the time they make it to us, it is often too late to do anything about them. That's why we have, and why we need, people like you. People who have a direct line to the information and can get it to us without whitewashing it or diluting it into what they think we want to hear."
"Then wouldn't it be better to have people who are actually out there?"
"We do. But they either simply pass information along, leaving us to sort through it all to find the connections, the patterns, or they pass along their own conclusions and suppositions. Which, while often perfectly accurate, are limited to the scope of their experiences and knowledge. So we're always on the lookout for more."
"But why me?"
"Because, as I said, you have, in very short order, gained the confidence of two of our best officers who are out there right now. Crusher is coming along nicely, outstanding science officer, extremely loyal to his friends and crew, and showing a remarkable ability to put together disparate pieces of information into a coherent whole."
Beverly smiled broadly at hearing her boyfriend earn such high praise.
"And Picard. . . " Uhura continue. "Did you know that there are those who are already saying that he's going to be given command of the next Enterprise? Oh, that's a good twenty years away - they're going to design a whole new class of starship for it - but still. Not even forty, and already being considered for the next flagship. And if all goes well, Jack Crusher will be right there beside him, as his first officer. That is the calibre of people you find yourself entangled with, Cadet Howard, and that is why it is so important that we here at Intel have a direct link to those fabulous minds. And you are that link."
Uhura stood and Beverly scrambled to her feet.
"I cannot order you to do this," the captain said as she made her way to the door. "But I hope you will consider my request seriously. I hope I've made it clear to you just how important this could be - for all our sakes. Please send me a message and let me know whichever way you decide."
It was the first time Beverly would leave a conversation with Nyota Uhura feeling a little bit lost and overwhelmed, but it would not be the last.
The year is 2354.
"I quit," Beverly raged. "I quit. I'm done with Starfleet, I'm done with space, I'm done with Intel work." The doctor, in her civilian clothing, looked decidedly out of place standing in front of Captain Uhura's desk.
Uhura merely gave her a long, level look. "You're not."
Beverly lifted her chin stubbornly. "I am. One of my colleagues in St. Louis has offered me a position in her practice. As we speak, my son and grandmother are moving our things into the lovely home we just purchased. I. Am. Done."
Uhura smiled gently, meeting the roiling storm of emotions in front of her with calm assuredness. "It's not that easy, Doctor. Believe me, I know. I tried once as well. You may be done with Starfleet, but the 'fleet isn't done with you."
Beverly collapsed into a chair, defeated, and buried her head in her hands. "Just. . . Just give me a while, okay?" she said quietly. "It all hurts so much right now. Every time I see a uniform, every time I hear an order given, I see him."
"I'll do what I can. As far as most of Command is concerned, you'll be put on extended leave. As far as we're concerned, you'll continue making your reports directly to me. I'll do my best to keep you out of any active investigations for a while. But we may send you to a conference or two. . . "
"Thank you, Captain. I suppose you should know that I probably won't have much to report from Picard for a while. Jean-Luc and I - we're not going to be in touch for a bit."
Beverly shrugged and moved to the window, staring out it without really seeing anything. "Guilt, mostly," she said eventually. "We're both feeling far too guilty right now and seeing each other or talking to each other just makes it worse. He feels guilty that he couldn't save Jack, and that he still wants his best friend's widow. That he might have a chance now. I feel guilty because I hate him a little bit for not saving Jack. And for wanting him." She shrugged, trying to convey her helplessness. "It's a crappy situation all around."
She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to see Uhura standing next to her. It always surprised her how small the woman was. Even at over a hundred years old, the woman still had a commanding presence.
"Any time you want to talk, I'm here," Uhura said. "Not just as your boss, but as your friend, Beverly. I've known you fully as long as he has."
"Thank you." Beverly smiled weakly.
"Take care of yourself, take care of your son," Uhura ordered gently. "Get settled in St. Louis, and send me a Christmas card, okay? I'll take care of everything else."
Beverly nodded and took a deep breath. A part of her that had broken when Jack died had been splinted back together. The captain had never broken her word before, and Beverly had no reason to doubt her. Starfleet would be there when she was ready to face it again. But for now she could concentrate on being a mother and a doctor. Everything else would keep.
The year is 2364.
"Do you recall a conversation we had on this very campus nearly twenty years ago?"
Beverly smiled. "We've had many conversations, Admiral. Which one in particular are you thinking of?"
"The very first one, I believe it was."
"When you told me that some day Jean-Luc was going to be given command of the next Enterprise? Yes, I remember."
Not ten minutes before, Admiral Uhura, Chief of Starfleet Intelligence, had handed one of her best operatives a PADD containing a soon-to-be-released announcement regarding the crew for the newly completed USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D).
"There seem to be several senior positions still unfilled," Beverly continued, glancing at the PADD again. She wasn't sure where this conversation was going, but that was a familiar, even comforting, feeling.
"Yes. Yes, there are."
Beverly looked up sharply at the other woman. "You really want me to . . .?"
"I do. I need you up there, Beverly. I need you to be my eyes and ears on this ship."
"And I'd still report directly to you?"
"Of course. We've grown up together in Intel, Beverly. No one would dare try to take you away from me." The two women shared a smile.
"He's going to object, you know," Beverly commented after a few more minutes of perusing the ship's incomplete roster. No need to say who "he" was.
"He can object all he likes," Uhura said with a somewhat vicious grin. "But there is nothing in your record that says you shouldn't be given that position. In fact, you've got a record that most captains would kill for in their CMO. The only objections he can raise will be personal, and since you'll be requesting the post, it's obvious that you don't feel there are any issues."
"Which means he'll put up a token protest, but will back down because he can't support his claim without going into personal history."
"Well, then, Dr. Beverly Crusher, Chief Medical Officer of the USS Enterprise, I do believe you have a son to inform and arrangements to make."
Beverly smiled broadly. "Wes will be delighted. Thank you, Admiral. For everything."
Beginning life on the Enterprise was about as chaotic and crazy as Beverly had expected. Seeing Jean-Luc for the first time in almost a decade was both easier and harder than she expected.
Walking onto the bridge for the first time, she had a definite flutter in her stomach, but she was inclined to think that had more to do with the fact that she was on the bridge of the Enterprise than with the man sitting in the captain's chair. At least that's what she told herself.
His half-hearted apology had equally amused and annoyed her, but his tentative offer of friendship had set the tone for the two of them, and slowly, they regained some of the closeness they had once shared. They began taking breakfast together, and talking over events - a fact which delighted Admiral Uhura, when Beverly's reports began rolling in.
"See, Beverly," she said in one message, "I told you that I needed you on that ship. I'm getting more useful information from you and that captain of yours than I am from half a dozen other sources combined."
Uhura had also warned Beverly that any ship named Enterprise was inherently a magnet for all things weird and wacky, and that had certainly proven true. From water-based intoxicants to malfunctioning holodecks to seemingly omnipotent beings, Beverly felt like she had seen it all, and that was only after a year on board. And yet, every time she turned around, the universe seemed to throw something new at her.
One of the most disturbing events were the controlling parasites that they found embedded in the spines of a number of highly ranked officers in Starfleet Command. The captain and Commander Riker had managed to destroy the mother-creature, but the fact that the parasites had managed to infiltrate so deeply into the heart of Starfleet was worrisome in the extreme.
Not long after they had left Earth to resume their deep space exploration, Beverly received a transmission from Admiral Uhura. It wasn't the usual recorded message, but was instead a live feed. The Admiral needed to talk to her face to face.
Surprised, Beverly locked the door to her office and tapped the control panel for her vid screen. "Authorization Crusher 2-Aleph-Sigma-4-Psi."
The modulated tones of the ship's computer replied, "Authorization accepted, initiating transmission." Uhura's face then appeared on the screen.
"Beverly, I hope I caught you at an acceptable time."
"Of course, Admiral. What can I do for you?"
"As I'm sure you guessed, we are incredibly worried about corruption and outside influences on Command, ever since you revealed those parasites. It's not much of an exaggeration to say that your visit back home has kicked over a hornet's nest and these hornets are angry. No one likes thinking that they've been duped, but that's what a lot of Command feels like right now."
"Go on," Beverly said warily. Conversations like these always seemed to end up with a bombshell being dropped.
"They're cleaning house in a big way. Everyone is scrambling to put people they trust in positions of authority. I need you to come home, Bev. I need you to take over Starfleet Medical."
"You need me to WHAT?"
"Become the head of Starfleet Medical," Uhura repeated, and although her eyes and words were solemn, the corners of her mouth twitched in amusement. "Dr. Ardoma had been making noises about wanting to retire for several years now. I'm sure he'd be happy to hand over the reins to one of his favorite students."
Beverly opened and closed her mouth several times before any words came out. "Are you sure?"
"But surely there are better qualified people out there! I haven't - I mean, I'm not - "
"You are qualified, Doctor. And, more importantly, I know I can trust you to do the right thing."
"But - I thought you said you needed me here, on the Enterprise?"
"I did. And I do." Uhura sighed audibly. "If I could clone you and have you in both places, I would."
"Please, don't joke about that!"
"But right now, the need is greater here at home. We've got to put our house in order, Bev. Otherwise nothing you do out there will matter."
It was Beverly's turn to sigh. "I don't really have a choice, do I?"
Uhura looked her straight in the eye. "If you tell me you truly cannot do it. If you can look at me and tell me you cannot bear to be parted from the ship, your job, your son, your captain. Then I will withdraw the offer, I won't put your name before Command. Can you do that?"
Beverly squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, and when she opened them, they were filled with tears. "No, no I can't do that. I gave my loyalty to you long ago, Admiral. If you really think I can do this job, and that you really need me to be the one to do it, then I will."
"Thank you, my dear. If all goes well, I'll only need you here for a year or two. After that, we'll find a way to get you back to the Enterprise if that's what you want. Sit tight, and expect to receive the official communication from Command in a day or two. It'll be framed as an offer, but everyone will know that it's really an order. If all goes well, I will see you in about six weeks."
"I'll be there."
"Very good. Thank you again, Doctor. Uhura out."
The screen went black again, and Beverly stared at it for a moment before wiping her eyes. Then she stood, straightened her uniform, and unlocked her door, and went back out to Sickbay to face the longest couple days of her life.
The morning of her departure left Beverly at loose ends. She paced in her quarters, determined not to check on her - the - staff in Sickbay one last time. They would be fine. They were more than competent and she had trained them well over the last year. They would be fine until the new CMO came aboard. Wouldn't they?
Just as she lost the battle with herself, her door chimed and opened to reveal the captain holding a tray with two croissants and a carafe of coffee.
"I thought you could use some company this morning," he said without preamble, and invited himself in, placing the tray on the small table in the room.
Bemused, Beverly allowed him to pull out a chair for her and serve her.
"I don't know what you did to this coffee," she said blissfully after a few sips, "but it is far better than any I've had in a long time."
"I raided the galley," Jean-Luc admitted. "I thought you deserved the real thing this morning."
"You do realize that once I'm back on Earth, I'll be able to have real, non-replicated coffee whenever I wish?"
"Fine. I wanted some, and this made a convenient excuse. Happy?"
"Pour me some more and I will be."
They ate in a companionable silence for several minutes before Jean-Luc finally put his mug down and looked directly at Beverly.
"Are you sure about this?"
"I have to, Jean-Luc. I told you before. This isn't the sort of offer one can turn down."
"I did. Quinn wanted to make me an admiral, remember?"
"First of all, do we really know that it was Quinn at the time? Given what happened later. . . And second, suppose that offer was made twenty years ago? Or even ten? Would you have been able to turn it down then?"
"Well, I - "
"No, Jean-Luc. You have earned the right to turn down that offer. It will probably be made to you again and again, until you finally accept it. But you've earned the right to turn it down, and everyone in Command knows that. I - I haven't yet. To be offered the position as Head of Starfleet Medical when I've only been a physician for fifteen years is an incredible honor, and not one that I can turn down. Nor should I."
"But - " Whatever he was going to say was cut off by the chirp of his comm.
"Bridge to the Captain."
"Go ahead, Number One."
"Rendezvous with the Armstrong in fifteen minutes. They will be awaiting Dr. Crusher's arrival."
"Acknowledge." He turned his attention back to Beverly. "Allow me to see you off?"
"Of course. Let me get my things together and say goodbye to Wes, and I will meet you in Transporter Room 2."
When she arrived, Beverly was surprised to see Jean-Luc standing outside of the room. He manually opened the door and walked in with her, one hand on the small of her back.
The ensign on duty snapped to attention. "Sir."
"Thank you, Ensign. Dismissed."
"I said, dismissed," the captain snapped. The ensign gave a small squeak and scurried out of the room.
Beverly bit her cheek to keep from smiling. "That was unkind, Jean-Luc."
He sighed. "I'll apologize later."
"I certainly hope so," she said as she stepped onto the transporter pad. "The poor child must be wondering what he did wrong."
She turned to say goodbye to her friend and was surprised to see he had taken a step forward, so that they were almost touching.
"Beverly. . ." He reached up to caress her face. His finger left a burning trail down her cheek and a tingle in the pit of her stomach.
"We can't," she whispered.
"I'll still wait for you," he said, and took a step back to the control panel.
The comm chirped.
"Armstrong to Enterprise. We are ready to receive Dr. Crusher."
"Acknowledge," Jean-Luc replied. "Stand by for transport."
"I'm sorry," Beverly said.
Jean-Luc merely nodded. "Energize."
As she faded out, Beverly heard him whisper. "Forever."