i. (the naked now)
This urge was new, a white-hot spark that ran up and down her spine. The turbolift seemed smaller somehow, and she very nearly had to fight a minor bout of claustrophobia. Beverly tried to focus on why she was there in the first place. She had to tell the Captain something. Jean-Luc… It was something important, that much she recalled, but there were so many other thoughts to distract her. Memories of his eyes, fantasies of what his hands might do to her. This wasn’t the first time she’d thought about it, but usually, she shook the idle daydreams easily.
Warmth spread across her skin and reddened her cheeks, all the while ridding her of that last bit of sanity she’d still been clinging to. And there he was, just like she remembered, and if she didn’t have him right this second—
“Captain, can I see you in your ready room?” She didn’t wait for a reply, instead reached up and shook her hair out. He’d always shown an interest in her hair. “It’s a private matter.” Entirely accurate, and not nearly enough to express the sensations coursing through her. “No, actually, it’s an urgent one.”
“Now, Doctor,” he started once they were off the bridge, and finally, she remembered what she’d come to tell him.
“I believe I’m infected myself, Captain.”
Perched as she was on his desk, her mind conjured up more than one interesting use of the table beneath her. She was at the perfect height for him to just—
“Do you know what the infection is?” came his question, but she didn’t know why he was even asking that. Did it matter? “Come on, quickly!”
Prompted by his impatience, she apologised, but suddenly, it was so hot that she couldn’t possibly keep her lab coat on a second longer. There, better. “It is definitely like alcohol intoxication. The same lack of good judgement. For example, right now, I find you extremely, extremely—” No, she couldn’t. Not when there was work to be done. “Of course, we haven’t time for that sort of thing.”
Jean-Luc’s curiosity was peaked, though.
“What sort of thing?”
“Oh, God, would I love to show you,” Beverly purred and stepped closer, but Jean-Luc had other ideas, mind still focused on that silly virus. Didn’t he see that it wasn’t actually a problem?
“Doctor, there must be a cure! Some formula, similar to the old one—”
“Damn it, damn it, Captain,” she interrupted him. “My dear Captain.”
Now was the perfect time, yes, she decided, and leaned in. His lips were so close, but before she knew what was happening, he had dodged her perfectly good attempt at a kiss. She wasn’t going to stand for that, not after all these years. She followed him to the door and leaned against it.
“You owe me something. You realise that, don’t you?” It had grown hotter still and the only way she wouldn’t melt was if she unzipped her top, so she did. “I’m a woman. I haven’t had the comfort of a husband—a man!”
Beverly must have finally gotten to him, because he leaned closer, and yes, he would kiss her now, and take her to bed, and it really had been far too long.
Instead, he made a noise in the back of his throat, as if it physically pained him not to kiss her, and pleaded with her.
“Not now, Doctor. Please.”
That was when they both remembered that they weren’t alone any longer, that the entire bridge was witness to their little scene, and that, at last, cooled Beverly down a little. She extracted herself from his proximity and the entire situation by stepping into the turbolift. The little wave Jean-Luc gave her made the heat inside her flare right up again, though, and only the closing doors kept her from storming back out and having her way with him right there on the bridge.
Distantly, she heard Worf contact Will.
ii. (the big goodbye)
“Have a good time?” were the first words he heard coming out of her mouth since he’d become Dixon Hill. In a way, they almost felt like the first words he had heard coming out of her mouth ever, because in all the years he’d known her, she had never looked like this.
Picard distantly noticed that Dixon’s friend McNary had disappeared, but the room itself and the rest of their surroundings were all lost on him. Nothing could compare to this vision in front of him. Suddenly, he remembered Beverly had asked him a question.
“I don’t know. Sometimes it almost seems too real.” He allowed himself another long glance at her. “I must say, you wear it well. I’m glad you could make it.”
“Why, thank you, Mister Hill.”
That lilt of her voice, too, drove him a little more insane, and he tried desperately to cling onto that last shred of reality he had left—his ship.
“Maybe we should be getting back to the Enterprise.”
“We are on the Enterprise,” she reminded him. Picard hadn’t meant it literally, but from that glint in her eyes, he could tell she knew exactly what he was trying to say, and didn’t care a bit.
“Oh, yes, of course, so we are.”
“Do we have time to see your office?”
The invitation was blatant, and instantly, he was bombarded with images of what they’d be doing in his office in just a few moments. Where she’d put her hands, where he’d kiss and lick and suck. Warmth shot into his face, and he cleared his throat.
“Yes, of course. Why not.”
Together, they turned, and thanks to the magic of the holodeck, they’d be in Dixon Hill’s office nearly instantly. The anticipation was almost too much to bear.
Suddenly, voices rang out behind them.
“Captain, mind if I join you?”
“Yeah, me too, boss! I’d love to take a gander.”
He wasn’t usually a violent man, but if he’d had anything to strangle or kick at this moment, he didn’t think he’d be able to resist. As things were, he had to resign himself to the inevitable, and rolled his eyes. Next to him, Beverly did the same, and Picard was glad that at least he wasn’t the only one infinitely annoyed by the turn events had taken.
Later, of course, he would be glad, and would thank the spirits that Whalen and Data had been with them and had kept them from destroying the friendship they were only just beginning to rebuild, but for now, his mind was still filled with the fantasies of her.
The champagne went down her throat easily, but something still wasn’t quite right. Jean-Luc had been distracted all through dinner, and the curiosity was finally getting to her.
“Out with it, Jean-Luc,” she prompted, drumming her fingers on the table.
“Out with what?”
“Whatever has been on your mind all evening long.”
He seemed genuinely surprised that she had noticed.
“Has it been that apparent? How well you know me.”
“After all this time, I ought to.”
It was a simple truth; they had known each other for over two decades now, and even with the long gap in-between, she never lost the ability to read him like a book—as long as he didn’t try too hard to keep her out, anyway. She leaned back in the chair and took a long sip from her glass, watching him closely.
“Well, it’s true, I have been preoccupied. I know that’s not very flattering to you, but I have been thinking about us… and about the choices I’ve made.”
Beverly knew it wasn’t physically possible, but it did feel like her heart had just made a little jump inside her chest—a not entirely pleasant feeling. Was he saying what she thought he was saying?
“We both have made choices,” she reminded him, both praying he wouldn’t pursue this particular topic any further and hoping that he would.
“And I’ve been wondering if they were the right ones. Sometimes I feel we’ve allowed our positions to isolate us.”
“Our positions necessitate a degree of professional detachment.”
It was the textbook explanation, and her voice reflected that more than she had intended. She wondered if Jean-Luc would take the out she had given him and change the topic, or keep digging. With how things had going between them, she would’ve put her money on the latter.
He had been different when he’d asked her to dinner earlier, more open, almost a little playful. The last time she had seen that particular look on him had been years earlier, when she’d still been happily married and had spent time with him more as Jack’s best friend than her own.
“But there’s a danger in becoming too detached, of never permitting ourselves to get closer.”
That, admittedly, took her by surprise. Aside from the time they had gotten caught up in the world of Dixon Hill, he had never made any overtures to a potential relationship that went beyond the platonic.
“Is that what you want, Jean-Luc? To get closer?”
“You’re a very attractive woman,” he replied without really replying at all. Her heart jumped higher this time, and she tried to ignore it, but there was still that part of her that rejoiced in the compliment as much as it had when Bobby Goldsmith had called her beautiful all those years ago.
“And you’re a very attractive man. But we both know it’s not as simple as that.”
Never mind that it should be, that she wanted it to be, more and more with every minute that passed. But they were also friends, and after all the time apart, she treasured that more than anything.
“Would it be simpler if I were not your commanding officer?”
Ah. The question she had asked herself—not often, but once or twice, late at night or early in the morning, somewhere between dreaming and waking. She had never found a real answer.
“Simpler, perhaps, but that’s not the only issue. I guess, right now, I’m comfortable with our relationship just the way it is.”
She watched Jean-Luc get up, knowing what would happen next. He’d be unfailingly polite, but withdrawn, and they’d tiptoe around each other for a few days, hiding behind their ranks and positions, until they would eventually get back to what they had now. Which, aside from the beginnings of a friendship, wasn’t much, she thought with more than a little dismay. It had been this way every time they got too close to something more her first year aboard the Enterprise. Beverly was infinitely surprised when he broke their routine, and just as surprised by how he broke it.
“Would you care to dance?”
“I thought you didn’t dance!”
“On special occasions.”
That, too, was unexpected. Even on her wedding day, she’d had to cajole him, and he’d still resisted until the moment Jack had literally shoved him onto the dance floor with her. Jean-Luc held her close now, just as he had then, and even though she had not been consciously cataloguing it back then, Beverly hadn’t forgotten what it felt like to be this close to him.
“I don’t think I told you, but I’m glad you’re back on the Enterprise. I missed our friendship.”
In a way, his admission warmed her more than his earlier compliment had. Not that she’d been worried about not being missed, but it was always nice to hear.
“I did too.”
He pulled her into his personal space, and there was no way he’d ever dance with her like this in public. Her hand on his chest registered his rapid heart beat, and she was sure her own wasn’t any slower now.
Something had changed since they had sat down to dinner—since he’d opened the champagne, even. The atmosphere had shifted, and she was acutely aware of every movement, every breath. In a strange way, it reminded her of her dance classes before she’d learned not to overthink ballet.
And then things changed further as the last bit of distance between them disappeared. The small part of her brain that was still thinking rationally reminded her that she’d just said she wasn’t interested in deepening their relationship, but that part was easily silenced when she leaned in and pressed her lips to his.
The heat came instantly, spreading from her mouth over her entire body, and it made her stomach flutter in a way that was almost as scary as it was pleasant. Beverly pulled back only a split second before loosing control completely, but couldn’t keep herself from running her tongue along her bottom lip. She could still taste him there.
“Jean-Luc, if I didn’t know you better, I would think you were playing games with me.”
He wasn’t usually this forward, not with her, not with anyone. But this… this new version of him hadn’t taken no for an answer, and now she no longer knew how to feel. The struggle must’ve shown on her face, because his suddenly became a little clouded.
“You’re sorry you came tonight?”
“I didn’t say that.”
She wasn’t, not really. Sorry that she’d come so unprepared, perhaps, because with a single kiss, he had eroded all her defences. Over the past year, she had told herself she didn’t miss him, and the year before that, she had tried to make herself believe she’d never had any feelings for him whatsoever. Both were lies, and neither was a very good one. She just hadn’t expected to be called on them so suddenly and thoroughly, even if Jean-Luc didn’t have an inkling he’d done it at all.
The truth was, Beverly had always wondered. Even when she’d been married. She would never have cheated on Jack, or even seriously thought about anyone else, but Jean-Luc was somehow always around when Jack was, and in her mind, she had started connecting them in a way that she only later realised had helped her fall in love with him, too. And she was, it would be another lie to try to deny it now, and she was done. Done pretending, done trying to fight it. Her lips were still burning; if he kissed her again now, she wouldn’t pull back, and if he asked her to, she’d stay until the morning.
“Good. Because I’m delighted you did.” His breath was warm against her cheek, and she was ready for whatever would come. Or at least she thought she was. As it turned out, she was wholly unprepared for what he said next.
“But perhaps we should call it a night.”
The sudden distance between them felt like ice against her heated skin, yet he was already opening the door and waiting for her to step though. She did, but not without giving him a look that she knew must have been one of absolute bewilderment.
The door closed in her face before she so much as had the chance to wish him a good night, too, let alone process what was happening, and she couldn’t remember a time when she’d gone from hot to cold this quickly before. He had wanted her, hadn’t he? Surely, she couldn’t have imagined that. And she had wanted him. For all intents and purposes, they should be tumbling over clothing carelessly strewn on the floor now…
Beverly turned around more by instinct than conscious thought, and made her way back to the cold emptiness of her quarters where she would have only her lonely thoughts and her own two hands for company.
iv. (the game)
Picard was in the middle of a log entry when the door to his ready room chimed, and Doctor Crusher entered. He didn’t mind the interruption, although he was a little surprised when she didn’t apologise or offer to come back later like she usually did. Not that either was necessary, and they both knew it, but it had become a sort of routine between them.
That lack of routine wasn't the only thing that was different. She looked… flushed, almost glowing, and was waving her arms back and forth eagerly while she told him about a game that Will Riker had brought from Risa.
“I wanted to give Wesley one, but he's out on a date, so I came here. You’ve got to try this, Jean-Luc!”
The offhand way she talked about her son’s ‘date’ gave him pause, but the combination of her excitement over this game and her eyes, darker than usual, made him forget all about it instantly. He was intrigued.
Picard was aware there were more than enough things that could cause reactions like these in his Chief Medical Officer, but all of them, he knew, were either related to science or, in a rare moment of vulnerability, to dance. A game, that was new.
“Alright,” he said, and took a seat next to her on the couch. She immediately handed him a device the likes of which he had not used before. He wasn’t even sure how to use it, but Beverly was already putting hers on, explaining without words.
“And that’s all there is to it?” he asked, scepticism lacing his words.
“Uh huh,” she only murmured, and it didn’t take a genius to figure out how distracted she was. Picard watched her for a moment, cataloguing a great many things he had never seen on her before: Her cheeks were even more flushed now, her mouth open in a tight circle, breath coming in little gasps, and her body tensed and relaxed in a series of movements that were evocative of… No. It couldn’t be. Despite his inner protests, he felt his own breathing hitch, and were it not artificial, he would swear his heart had sped up.
Picard’s mouth was suddenly dry, and he wanted nothing more than to reach out and touch her skin, feel the heat that he imagined was coursing through her. He wanted to add to it, to kiss her and run his hands through her hair and push her hips back against the wall while he worked his own against her.
He wanted her so badly he could almost taste it, and he couldn’t remember the last time he hand wanted anything—anyone—this much. Not even in his youth, not even that first time.
It was agony to be sitting next to her and not be allowed to do any of those things, especially when she looked like this and gasped like that. His uniform felt tight, and he had the sudden urge to loosen a collar that didn’t exist.
If only he could touch her, just once, maybe this fever inside him would break, or maybe she’d stop being so enticing, or maybe the world wouldn’t end. He desperately wished for control.
Beverly, for her part, was completely unaware of his struggle, still engrossed in her game, and he wondered for a moment what would happen if he just took it away from her and did what he wanted. He slowly raised his hand to her face.
Her eyes snapped back to his, and the smile on her face was something he had never seen directed at him before. At Jack, yes, once upon a time, but never at him. That sealed the deal.
He reached for her, but instead of coming into his arms like he had imagined (hoped, prayed) she would, she dangled another device in front of him.
“Try it. Please. I promise you’ll like it.”
And then she winked at him. Beverly Crusher, CMO of the Starship Enterprise, winked at him. It rattled him so much that he didn’t even protest when she pushed the device onto his face. A red object appeared in front of him, and seemingly without effort, it disappeared into a purple tube. Had he done that? It happened again.
Picard's body quivered slightly with pleasure, and oh, that was what Beverly had been talking about. He understood now; her flushed cheeks, ragged breathing, it all made sense, now that his body was reacting in the same way. There was a part of him that still wanted to go back, to take off both devices and show her how much he longed for her, but after a few more seconds, that part, too, was silenced. This was just as good as the real thing anyway, he thought, and with a last glance at her, he sat back and let the game take over.
She watched the fire in front of them, and across the fire, she watched him.
“Little by little, I realised that I didn’t have those feelings anymore. Twenty years is, after all, a long time.”
Beverly knew it was a lie, but was too grateful for the out he’d given her to say anything. Instead, she offered her hand.
“And now we’re friends.”
That wasn’t a lie, technically, only perhaps by omission. That they both wanted to be more wasn’t even the question, not anymore. The question was whether their friendship would survive anything deeper. The knowledge of his feelings was heady, though, and not acting on it would be… difficult.
There was a bitterness in his voice that he somehow managed to keep out of his thoughts, or maybe he was getting better at blocking her. Either way, Beverly didn’t intend to find out. She stood up and made a show of warming her hands.
“We should get some sleep,” she said, knowing full well how much of a cop-out it was. But she wasn’t ready to have this conversation now, and maybe ever. And yet, a tiny part of her hoped Jean-Luc would call her on it because he knew. It was the same part that hoped he would lie closer, wrap his arms around her, never let her go. Those were idle fancies, though; he was too much of a gentleman to be that bold. Instead, there was just the right amount of distance between them, the respectable amount. At least he hadn’t turned away entirely, like she had, and that, too, was not the smartest choice she had ever made.
Her whole body was still tingling from his confession; heartbeat a little quicker than usual, breathing a little shallow. She didn’t have to be a doctor to know what those signs meant. She wanted to turn and touch him, kiss him, and tug him closer. Instead, she clenched her fist until her nails were digging into her palm, almost hard enough to draw blood. If the pain reached him at all, he didn’t flinch.
Beverly’s mind wasn’t controlled as easily, already supplying unhelpful images of them doing all those things she wanted, and more, and that was worse than her physical reactions. Heat spread across her skin like fire, and Jean-Luc must have felt her tense next to him, because he moved his head to look over. She couldn’t see him, of course, but she still felt his gaze, heard him take a breath to ask if she was okay, so she tried her best not to move at all.
It worked; he didn’t ask, didn’t move closer, and for a while, she distracted herself with thoughts of work, of Wesley, of anything that would take her mind off him.
At some point—she was halfway through what she remembered from a recent article on spore growth-rates—, his breathing evened out, and it was only when he nodded off that she felt a lot of the tension drain from her—it had been his, not her own. A tension of another kind soon made itself known, though, and it took the form of blood rushing to her lower abdomen. Again her brain bombarded her with images, and she cursed under her breath before she noticed those images were his, too. It didn’t take long for other sensations to join; sound, smell, taste, and clenching her fists was no longer enough. She bit her lip to keep from moaning out loud.
She couldn’t even blame him for a dream like this; she had probably given him more than enough inspiration earlier, but that didn’t suddenly make her immune to it. On the contrary; she wanted, more than ever. But the issues that had stopped her earlier were still there, and fear wrapped itself around her heart like a glove. They were friends, his revelation hadn’t changed that, and anything she could do now would only destroy their friendship.
That thought sobered her, finally, the idea of no longer being his friend. No longer in immediate danger of jumping him, she turned onto her back, lying almost shoulder-to-shoulder with him, and imagined what it would be like to wake up next to him every morning. It would never happen, of course, but there was no harm in thinking about it, was there?
Jean-Luc’s dreams eventually turned more abstract, and she had to stifle a laugh when she got the vague image of a small child playing with a plastic model of what looked suspiciously like the Enterprise. And yet, despite the change, she was still wide awake, resigning herself to a sleepless night with a sigh. In a burst of bravery, Beverly allowed herself the small comfort of putting her hand on top of his.
She watched the darkness around them, and from the corner of her eye, she watched him.
vi. (all good things)
Late that night, after the poker game had long finished, they sat together in his quarters. The bottle of wine on the table was nearly empty, and any pretence that they wanted to be anywhere but with each other was gone.
Picard had told his crew about the alternate timeline, but he hadn’t found a way to tell Beverly about their marriage and subsequent divorce. It might not happen, he kept telling himself, though what he was hoping wouldn’t happen, he wasn’t sure.
It wasn’t like he had never thought about it, about being married to her, or even just about deepening their relationship, but their experience on Kesprytt had put a dampener on any and all wonderings. But there was something different about her now. Maybe it was that wretched affair with Ronin, or maybe just the distance she had tried to impose upon them after Kesprytt that had eroded again quickly… Something had changed. He couldn’t wait to find out what.
“Penny for your thoughts,” she prompted, and a smile stole onto his face without his permission.
“Just thinking about what could have been…”
“Ah.” She mirrored the smile, but must have seen the wistfulness behind his. “Riker and Worf?”
“No, actually,” he said, and with that, the decision was made. She deserved to know. “Us.”
That perked her up; she tugged one of her legs underneath her body, and her glance turned questioning.
“Us? As in… you and me?”
“I did notice you somehow managed to leave me out of your little story.” She softened the barb with another smile, but the tone of her voice implied quite clearly she would have asked about it eventually. He was surprised she hadn’t already, actually, and that nobody else had, either, but then, they had all been too wrapped up in their own possible futures.
“So I don’t die heroically?” she joked.
“Far from it. You had your own ship,” he eased into it, and revelled in seeing her perched on the edge of his couch.
The way her eyes lit up was worth any embarrassment the rest of the story might cause, he decided. They spent precious moments talking about the USS Pasteur, the medical fleet, and all its implications.
“That’s not all, though, is it?” she asked suddenly, and he wondered how she had been able to tell.
“You know me so well,” he said. A strange look crossed her face for a moment, but she shook it off quickly. He vowed to ask about it later.
“You and I…”
Now that the moment was here, he didn’t know how to say it. It sounded so simple in his head, but somehow, his mouth wouldn’t wrap around the words.
“Let me guess,” she took over, oblivious to his plight, “we were married.”
“Divorced, actually,” Picard blurted out, barely managing to hide his surprise. It wouldn’t be the last time that he’d be baffled this evening, because she threw her head back and laughed. Somehow, and he couldn’t explain why, she made it sound as though she had always expected it, as though they always would have ended up together anyway.
Her laugh was infectious, and before he knew it, he had joined in. It was a little ridiculous when he really thought about it. He couldn’t imagine any universe in which he’d have her and let her go again.
“Just when I thought our relationship couldn’t get any more complicated…” Beverly said, wiping at her eyes.
Maybe it’s time we made it simpler, he thought. Not long ago, ‘simpler’ wouldn’t have meant what he was about to do, ‘simpler’ would have meant secret longing, loving from afar. Now, suddenly, everything was so, so clear. He scooted closer to her, took her hand in his, and leaned in. Her lips were just as soft as he remembered.
At first, the kiss was still familiar, a simple reprise of the kiss they’d shared in his ready room (except she would remember this one), but then her arms wrapped around his neck and her mouth opened under his, and this was entirely new. The little moan that escaped Beverly’s throat made him lose his mind just a little bit more, and he didn’t think he would be able to stop her from unzipping his uniform even if he wanted to.
Picard remembered all the times they had come close, and all the reasons they’d had not to continue back then. But now… Now was different. They were different. There would be no going back from this, but that was alright, because there was no going back from their feelings either, hadn’t been for a long, long time.
He’d loved her for as long as he’d known her, and he’d known her for twenty-five years. It was about time they did something about it.