He had not thought that she would come to breakfast while Wesley was home from the academy. She would want to spend the time with her son—they had, after all, only begun to dine together after Wesley had left the Enterprise. In some obscure way, he supposed, he had served to fill the void left by her absent son. Filling the void left by Jack was, as it had always been, too much to hope.
But there she was, at his door as ever, smiling brightly.
"Good morning, Jean-Luc," she said, taking a seat at the table and pouring herself a cup of tea.
"You seem very cheerful this morning," he commented, and passed her the plate of croissants. "But then, it is pleasant having Wesley back on board. Is he enjoying his visit?"
"That's part of it, yes. He's down in Engineering already, helping Geordi retune the lateral sensor array. If that's his idea of a vacation from his studies, who am I to argue with him?"
"It sounds like a certain doctor I know."
"Or a certain captain." She raised an eyebrow at him. Touche.
"But that's only part of it?" Picard looked at her, intrigued. There was little he could imagine that would make her happier than being reunited with her son.
"Well, there is this," she said sheepishly, pulling something out of the pocket of her lab coat. "I know it's silly, but…"
"What is it?" he asked, examining it curiously. It was a light headset, with holographic emitters designed to project directly into the eyes. As for its intended use, however, there was no clue.
"It's just a game. Will brought it back from Risa."
"Hmm," he said, disapprovingly. "Risa."
"Don't be like that, Jean-Luc. You've brought more than a game back from Risa yourself, you know."
Picard said nothing. He did not like to be reminded of Vash—not by Beverly, and especially not at breakfast. It was not as if there was anything for which he need apologise—not exactly—but even so, the thought made him uneasy.
"Would you like to try it?" she prompted.
"It's not really the sort of thing that I…"
"Jean-Luc," she replied, gently reproving, "you should try new things once in while, if only to keep you from getting set in your ways. See, I'll show you how it works."
And she slipped the headset on, smoothing in down over her soft curls. There was a subtle flash of light as the device activated… and then her face changed, her eyes unfocussed, looking at something far beyond him or the room in which they sat. Beverly sighed, and then gasped softly, her back arching slightly. Picard was about to reach out to her—when he realised that she was feeling not pain, but pleasure. And before his eyes…
"Beverly," he said, trying to get her attention. "Beverly."
"I'm sorry," she replied, slipping it off again. Her voice was breathy, as if she were ever so slightly winded. "It can be quite absorbing… as you see."
"Do you know how it works?"
"I assume it stimulates the pleasure centres of the brain. But the effect really is limited—nothing more than a mild stimulant… Such as a cup of tea," she added mischievously, looking at the pot of Earl Grey on the table. "It's harmless, Jean-Luc; I can assure you of that."
"If you say so."
"And now," said Beverly, in a tone that brooked no argument, "it's your turn."
She moved to sit beside him on the couch, and, with the gentlest of touches, reached out and slipped the device over his head. Her hands lingered to adjust the settings.
"Just relax," she said, in low calming tones, close to his ear. "You'll see."
It was ridiculously simple, nothing that should have held his attention for more than a few moments. There was no subtlety to it, no elegance. Even the anonymous pleasure that came—and he did feel it—was just that: anonymous, mechanical. He would have taken it off right away, if it had not been for Beverly's blue eyes, gazing back into his own. He had never truly been able to lose himself in them, never been able to allow himself to get close enough to…
Picard took the device off.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I hadn't intended to be so antisocial. You're here to have breakfast, not to watch me playing a game."
"Not at all. That one is for you; I brought my own." She looked at him hopefully. "We can play together."
And so they sat there, side by side, together and alone—keeping one another company, playing their games. Just as they always did.