He was in that pleasant stage of sleep, just before waking, when he felt warm and content; he knew he was tucked into Jean-Luc, the way he always was, his head on Jean-Luc’s pillow and his face in Jean-Luc’s neck, his body pressed against him and his arm thrown across his chest. He sighed, a small one, because this knowledge meant it was time to get up, but he was far too comfortable to even want to open his eyes.
“I presume at some point you’ll tell me why we’re sharing my bed?” Jean-Luc said, his voice a little deeper from sleep.
He opened his eyes and smiled, the same smile he’d been giving Jean-Luc for almost thirty-five years.
“Good morning,” he said, kissing Jean-Luc softly on his cheek, so papery-thin now that sometimes he was afraid he would tear it simply from the act of kissing.
“Good morning,” Jean-Luc said, and then he remarked, surprised, “We’re not on the Enterprise.”
Will reached out and pulled Jean-Luc into him, encircled him with his arms, and held him tight. “No,” he said softly, against Jean-Luc’s ear, “no longer on the Enterprise, although I shared your bed – and we shared our bed – there, too.”
“We did?” Jean-Luc asked. His face was pressed into Will’s shoulder.
“Mmmh-hmmm,” Will said, kissing the top of his head. “I was sick, and you helped me to be well.”
“I remember,” Jean-Luc said. “You were so terribly ill. I was afraid I would lose you.”
“But you didn’t,” Will reminded him gently. “You can’t get rid of me, I’m afraid, Jean-Luc. I’m here for the long haul.”
“Did I marry you?” Jean-Luc asked.
“Yes,” Will answered, pulling Jean-Luc in closer. “It was a great wedding. Everyone had a good time. The food, the music…You even danced with Mrs Troi.”
“I did not,” Jean-Luc said.
“You did,” Will remembered, and he felt like laughing. “And then we stayed together on the Enterprise, and when I got the Titan, you came with me.”
Jean-Luc sighed. Then he said, “Will.”
“You tell me this every morning.”
“Yes,” Will agreed.
“Don’t you ever get tired of having to tell me?” Jean-Luc glanced up at him, his dark eyes anxious.
“No, Jean-Luc,” Will Riker said, kindly, “I never get tired of telling you.”
They were quiet, Jean-Luc content to be in his arms. Perhaps, Will thought, he was trying to organise his thoughts, trying to decide if he was hungry, or if he needed to pee.
“How long have we been married? Will?”
“It will be thirty-five years in two weeks,” Will said. “We got married on Cochrane Day.”
“Thirty-five years,” Jean-Luc breathed. “And aren’t you bored, Will Riker, with being married to someone who must be ancient? I must be ancient, mustn’t I? I seem to remember I was considerably older than you.”
“You are thirty years older than me,” Will corrected, “almost to the day, and, no, you’re not ancient, and no, I’m not bored. I’ve never been bored, with you.”
“And you don’t get tired of telling me this every morning,” Jean-Luc repeated.
“No, I never get tired of telling you every morning,” Will said, kissing him again. “I’ve been the luckiest man in the universe, Jean-Luc, and every time I tell you, I remember just how lucky I am.”
“You are my sweet boy,” Jean-Luc said, his voice suddenly strong, and then he added, “I used to tell you that, once.”
“In French,” Will whispered, blinking back sudden tears. “You used to tell me in French.”
“Tu es mon garçon doux,” Jean-Luc said, and when he looked up at Will, his eyes were steady. “Je t’aime beaucoup, mon Guy.”
Will took a moment to recover. “You haven’t called me that in a while,” he said, finally. “Are you hungry? Would you like me to bring you your tea?”
Jean-Luc said, “I don’t think every part of me is as ancient as my memory…I don’t suppose --?”
Will grinned. “You can indeed suppose,” he answered. The contentment he’d felt before returned. It was going to be a good morning.
Afterwards, he helped Jean-Luc into the shower, and they showered together, and he was careful, when he washed Jean-Luc, to soap him gently so as not to bruise. There’d been a time when a shared shower would have led to making love again, but those days were gone for Jean-Luc, and truth be told, mostly gone for Will as well. He was only seventy-two – Jean-Luc had still been captain of the Enterprise, at seventy-two – but the consequences of his long illness, and a subsequent injury while captain of the Titan had led to an artificial pancreas and a realisation that Jean-Luc needed him far more than Starfleet did.
Jean-Luc could still dress himself and so he did, even though he still shunned the brighter colours Will had been trying for thirty-five years to get him to wear. Will cleaned up the head – he refused to call it a bathroom – and checked to make sure that Jean-Luc was okay to do his exercises.
In the kitchen, Will opened the back door and then the window, and the kitchen was filled with sunlight and birdsong. Spring was on its way – there was a green haze around the trees, and the blood oranges and Meyer lemons and pears were all in bloom. He filled the kettle with water and placed it to boil on the stove, found Jean-Luc’s mug and his tray, and set about making the simple breakfast Jean-Luc preferred. Outside the back door Mercè had left a basket with fresh eggs and sprigs of parsley. He took the croissants he’d baked last night and warmed them up in the oven, set the eggs in the sink, and took the kettle off the stove before its whistle bothered Jean-Luc, as he could no longer tolerate high-pitched sounds. He poured the water into the ceramic teapot and set the tea in to steep, and then he finished arranging the tray. Even though he no longer breakfasted with Beverly, Jean-Luc still preferred that a crock of marmalade be set on the tray. Now that they grew their own blood oranges, the marmalade was homemade.
When the croissants were warm, he wrapped them in a towel and set them in the basket. Then he replicated himself a cup of coffee – he’d make coffee later, after Jean-Luc had eaten – and he walked into their breakfast room where Jean-Luc would now be waiting.
“There you are, Will,” he said, smiling. He’d opened the window in here as well.
Will set the tray down on the round wooden table, and poured Jean-Luc his first mug of tea. “Are you sure you won’t be chilled?” he asked. “I could get your sweater.”
“No, it’s a lovely day. I’ll be fine,” Jean-Luc said. “Perfect, every time.”
It was stupid –one of his ten words – but it still made him happy to know that he could make the captain’s tea the way he wanted it. Once, he’d made the captain happy by running his ship the way he wanted it; now it was merely the captain’s breakfast. He’d read somewhere, and he didn’t know who, and he didn’t know when, that aging was a process of gradual diminishment. His depression, which had plagued him his whole life, didn’t need much to rear its ugly head, and he squashed the thought of aging. He’d accepted those thirty years. And Jean-Luc had cared for him. It was simply his turn.
He watched Jean-Luc eat and sipped the replicator coffee. As soon as he’d escaped Beverly, he’d gone back to real coffee, and now that they lived here, in the villa in Catalunya which Jean-Luc had inherited from his godmother, he’d discovered cafè amb llet (similar to the café au lait Jean-Luc had grown up with); it was a joy to prepare it and then drink it in the morning.
“Aren’t you eating, William?” Jean-Luc asked now. Then he said, “I suppose I ask you that every morning too.”
He grinned. “You’ve asked me that every morning since I moved in with you when we were back on the Enterprise,” he said, laughing.
Jean-Luc glanced up at him suspiciously, and then he said, mildly, “Only because you nearly starved yourself to death.”
“In about an hour or so, Jean-Luc,” Will said seriously, reaching over and taking Jean-Luc’s hand, “I will take the fresh eggs that Mercè left us this morning and make a pair of omelets with goat-cheese and fresh parsley and chives. Okay?”
“Most definitely okay,” Jean-Luc said. “You made this marmalade, didn’t you?”
“We did,” Will said, “out of our own oranges.”
“I remember. We picked them, and peeled them.” He sipped his tea and then delicately, cat-like, wiped his mouth. “You made juice,” he remembered, surprised.
“For you,” Will said. “I don’t drink orange juice. Not even blood orange juice.”
“No,” Jean-Luc said soberly, “I know you don’t, Will. But you’ve been having good days, haven’t you? Here, in this house?”
Will wanted to pick Jean-Luc up and hold him. “Yes,” he agreed. “I have good days, here in this house.” He stood up and picked up the tray. “I’ll take this back to the kitchen,” he said, “and clean up. You fetch your sweater and then we’ll take our walk, okay?”
“Okay,” Jean-Luc answered solemnly, but Will could see his dark eyes were twinkling just a bit. “I’ll wait for you, outside.”
“With your sweater,” Will said. “I don’t want you to catch a cold.”
“Don’t be a nag, Mr Riker,” Jean-Luc said. “I’m perfectly capable of deciding whether I am warm or cold.”
“Sir,” Will answered, and he walked out of the room.
It was stupid, and there was his word again, but the criticism stung, a bit. And it was stupid because it was a longstanding criticism, one that dated back to their first years on the Enterprise, when he’d been adamant in his refusal to allow the captain to participate in away missions, or in anything dangerous; and then, much to the detriment of his own career, he’d also been adamant in rescuing the captain from every scrape (the captain’s word, not his) in which the captain had been involved. Dozens, as it had turned out, despite his best efforts to keep Jean-Luc safe. The irony was that Jean-Luc had chosen him to be his First precisely because there was his strong sense that the captain belonged on the bridge, in relative safety, surrounded by security. One time, and for the life of him he couldn’t remember when, and he supposed that was bad news, since it was his job to be the Sacred Holder of Memories, in the same way that Deanna had been the Sacred Holder of the Chalice of Rixx, Jean-Luc had turned to him and had said, “Cluck, cluck, Number One – don’t be such a mother hen.” It had stung then, too.
He took a deep breath. He turned the water on and hand washed the few dishes and then wiped down the wooden tray. He set the dishes in the strainer to dry, put the tray back in its place in the cabinet, and dried his hands. The truth was he was having some trouble. It wasn’t, he thought, that this was difficult. And it had been his own choice – he could have stayed on the Titan, after his injury. But the injury had reactivated his depression, and he’d thought taking an extensive medical leave – it had been, at that point, almost thirty-two years since his last one – might be a good idea. Then it had become apparent that Jean-Luc’s tentative diagnosis was becoming reality, and the choice had been easy. Jean-Luc had risked his reputation and his life to save him, once. He’d wrapped him in a love so profound he still found it hard to believe it had been real, and they’d had, despite many predictions to the contrary, a good life together.
He and Jean-Luc had sat down together, then, with Sascha, and Rose, and Jean-Guy, and discussed what they would do. Jean-Luc had offered up the villa in Sitges, which had been their holiday home, as their permanent home. Rose had suggested that perhaps her father might enjoy teaching a class or two at the University in Barcelona – in archeology, for example, or diplomacy; Jean-Luc had been reluctant, but Rose, using her extensive medical knowledge, had explained that the memory loss was not likely to affect his scholarship for some time. Then it had been Will’s turn. He’d figured that he’d find something. He’d figured that caring for Jean-Luc – doing all the little things that he’d done to run a ship and just applying them to a much-smaller scale – would be enough.
Sascha had been furious. Will was sure he didn’t have a temper – so perhaps Sascha got his temper from Jean-Luc.
“You have been writing music,” he said, “for fifty years. When are you going to do something about it?”
Jean-Luc, that traitor, had sided with Sascha, and his fate was sealed. Once a month he travelled to Starfleet in Madrid, where he worked very quietly on a few projects for which HQ in San Francisco needed his expertise. Every once in a while, he would find himself on a trip to Paris, or London; and, once a year, to San Francisco. But, using Jean-Luc’s privileges at the University of Barcelona, he found himself with a studio and a small following of students who called themselves the “Admiral’s groupies.” It was embarrassing, but he was working in a way he’d never thought he could.
And yet…Maybe, he thought, they simply needed to get away, for a bit. They could take a holiday. With their anniversary coming up, it would be the perfect time to do something fun. There were plenty of places on Earth he’d never been. Plenty of ruins to explore for Jean-Luc, plenty of cafés and bars where he might hear some good music played. He’d talk to Rose, when she arrived. She’d know whether her father was physically well enough to travel.
How long had Jean-Luc been shouting? He rushed to the door and flung it open, to see Jean-Luc staggering up the stone path, his sweater half on him and flapping, his hat gone. He was down the path and at Jean-Luc’s side in seconds, and he gathered Jean-Luc in his arms, holding him tightly, listening to his ragged breathing and his continued “Will, Will,” only whispered, now.
“Shhh,” he soothed. “It’s all right, I’m right here. I’ve got you.” He stroked Jean-Luc’s back in a circular motion, lightly, and then he kissed the top of his head. “You’re overheated, Jeannot,” he said, using Jean-Luc’s childhood nickname. “And you’ve lost your hat.”
“Will,” Jean-Luc repeated. “Will.”
“I’m right here,” he said. There was no point in pushing him; when he got stuck like this it was best to just hold him and reassure him. “Let’s go inside and get you something to drink. Okay?”
“Will,” Jean-Luc said, but he allowed himself to be guided up the stone path and into the kitchen.
Will shut the kitchen door, and led Jean-Luc over to the old white table. It took some time, before Jean-Luc would agree to sit; he clung to Will, sweating and trembling. Finally Will placed him in the chair, and then he took a tea towel and wet it, wringing it out, and then used it to gently wipe the tears, and the sweat, from Jean-Luc’s face. He replicated a cup of tea and put two teaspoons of honey in it, and then sat down beside Jean-Luc.
“Drink up,” he said softly. Then he realised Jean-Luc was still tangled in his sweater, and he unwrapped it from around Jean-Luc’s shoulders and chest and set it down.
“You put honey in this,” Jean-Luc complained. “You know I don’t like honey in my tea.”
“I know,” Will answered, “but you’ve had an upset, and you need a bit of sugar.”
“I thought I’d lost you,” Jean-Luc said. “I thought maybe you’d taken the shuttle, and you weren’t going to come back.”
“Is that what you thought?” Will murmured, taking Jean-Luc’s hand.
“But you didn’t, did you?” Jean-Luc took another sip of tea.
“No,” Will said. “I’m right here.”
“And you wouldn’t,” Jean-Luc added.
“I wouldn’t what, my love?” Will asked.
“Take a shuttle and leave me.”
Will took a breath, because the memory of the time he had taken a shuttle and left was threatening to bubble to the surface.
“I will never take a shuttle and leave you, Jean-Luc,” he promised.
“I still hate honey in my tea,” Jean-Luc said.
Will smiled. “I know.”
Jean-Luc drank the tea anyway, even though he hated honey in it. “I waited for you hours and hours,” he said now, peering into his empty mug. “Hours and hours and you didn’t come. And then,” he said, and his face began to crumble, “I couldn’t get the damned jumper on correctly – oh, God. Will. What am I to do? How am I to do this? There’s no me anymore. The great Jean-Luc Picard,” he said bitterly, “can’t even get his fucking jumper on.”
“And there was a time,” Will said, still holding Jean-Luc’s hand, “when I was dying, and there seemed no point in anything anymore. When it was too hard to even think about getting out of bed. Do you remember, Jean-Luc?”
“Yes, I remember.”
“And you asked me to consider the possibility – that was the word you used – the possibility of sharing a future with you.” Will paused. “Do you know, I didn’t even realise that you were proposing to me, then?”
“Was I, Will?” Jean-Luc asked, and his eyes were beginning to clear, a bit. “Was I proposing to you?”
“I think you were,” Will said. “The second time you proposed it was Valentine’s Day…and we were here, in Sitges, on the holodeck.”
“That I do remember.”
“But the first time I was in my room in sickbay, and I was dying, and I just wanted everything to stop. And then you asked me,” Will said, “you asked me to share your life with you.”
“And you said yes.” Jean-Luc placed his other hand on top of Will’s and smiled.
“I did,” Will agreed. “I said yes.”
“And here we are,” Jean-Luc said, “in the future. And you are stuck with a very old man who very soon will not even remember how to take a piss.”
Will sighed. “I think there is some time, Jean-Luc,” he said, “before it comes to that.”
“And was there some moral to this story, Will?” Jean-Luc asked.
“Yes,” Will said, and he looked into hazel eyes. “I want you to consider the possibility, Jean-Luc, of sharing your life – and your future – with me. Here, in this house, which is now our home. Will you think about it, Jean-Luc, and tell me in the morning?”
“I shall probably forget everything in the morning,” Jean-Luc said, “including the fact that I am already married to you.” He was quiet and then he said, “Yes, Will. I will consider it, and tell you, in the morning.”
“Good,” Will said, another crisis having been averted. “I believe I promised you an omelet from Mercè’s eggs.”
“We were supposed to take our walk,” Jean-Luc remarked.
“I think you should eat something first,” Will answered, “and I’m hungry.”
Suddenly Jean-Luc smiled and it was as if the sun had appeared. “Well,” he said, his old voice back, “if our Mr Riker is hungry, he had better eat.”
“Omelets it is.” Will rose, and took the skillet from the rack on the ceiling, and took a bowl from the cupboard, and washed his hands.
Will dried his hands and broke an egg into the bowl. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry,” Jean-Luc said.
“I know.” He cracked another egg, and whisked them together.
“I won’t dwell on it.”
“No,” Will said. “There’s no point in dwelling on it.” He rinsed the parsley and the chives and began to dice them, his hands moving quickly.
“You never opened that restaurant with Guinan,” Jean-Luc said, after a while.
“No,” Will agreed. “I like what I’m doing now.” He finished dicing the herbs and folded them into the eggs, and then added a pinch of salt. He cracked some pepper into the mixture, and then took the cheese out of its cloth wrapper.
“You are a composer,” Jean-Luc said. “I missed your band, when we lost the D.”
Will grated the cheese into the bowl and turned the fire on under the skillet. He poured a tablespoon of olive oil into the pan, and waited for it to warm.
“May I have another cup of tea?” Jean-Luc asked.
“Of course,” Will said, and he pulled the skillet off the fire so the oil wouldn’t burn, and took Jean-Luc’s mug and replicated more tea. “No honey, this time,” he said, setting it on the table.
“No, no honey,” Jean-Luc replied. “I really don’t like honey in my tea. I don’t like to wear my jumper either.”
Will sighed. “And mean old Will makes you do both,” he said, and then he instantly regretted it.
Jean-Luc didn’t take offense. “It was your turn,” he said instead.
The skillet on the fire and the omelets in the skillet, Will turned around and asked, “What was my turn?”
“I was mean to you, all those years,” Jean-Luc said, and his lip turned upward, just a bit, as if he were trying not to smile. “Yelling at you. Threatening to demote you. Beating you up, once. Making you dock the saucer section manually. It seems only fair that you should be able to get me back.”
Will was laughing, tears streaming down his face. “Is that what I’m doing, Jean-Luc,” he asked, “making you drink tea with honey and wear a stupid sweater?”
“Most certainly, Mr Riker,” Jean-Luc said, “that is precisely what you are doing, in your own passive-aggressive way.”
They ate the omelets in companionable silence.
“I suppose you will want me to take that damned walk now,” Jean-Luc said as he wiped his mouth.
“Oh, fuck you, Jean-Luc,” Will said.
“Ha!” Jean-Luc grinned. “There’s the Will Riker I know and love.”
“You are incorrigible, you know that?” Will said, taking Jean-Luc into his arms.
“And you are a royal pain in my arse,” Jean-Luc replied. “I shall go read in the study, I think.”
“And leave me to clean up,” Will said, but he wasn’t complaining.
“You do it so well, Number One.”
“Years of practise, Jean-Luc,” Will called after him. “Years and years and years.”
As mornings went, this one hadn’t been too bad.