Disclaimer: Nouns belong to Paramount. No profit or infringement intended.
Author's note: Set after "Nemesis." This fic can standalone, but it could also fit between my Picard/Janeway fics "Touch" and "Beautiful." Thanks to Rocky for the beta and Stephen for coming through with a last minute detail.
The gentle glow from the candles cast warm shadows against the red painted walls and the air was heavy with the aroma of oregano and basil. Among other things, Beverly Crusher thought with a slight smile, as she ran her finger along the rim of her wine glass. She stared across the table at her dining partner, admiring the sharp and elegant cut of his gray suit. So many years she had known Jean-Luc, so many years of memorizing every facial feature, and yet tonight, like every time before, she still found something new to admire about her former captain. Maybe it was the way the light played off the curve of his jaw or the crinkle at the edge of his eyes or the sure and strong way he held his posture. She detected the appearance of new lines on Jean-Luc's forehead and she wondered if Shinzon was responsible for those additions.
"You're a thousand kilometers away, Beverly," Jean-Luc said softly. He reached for his wine glass. Red merlot, from 2365, from France, of course. It was a fine wine -- Jean-Luc had chosen well -- but Beverly thought it was a shame the Picard vintage wasn't on the menu.
"I'm thinking how well you look," Beverly said.
At this, Jean-Luc smiled. "You've always been a terrible liar, Beverly."
"I'm complimenting you, Jean-Luc," she said evenly.
Jean-Luc settled back in his chair and took a long look around the restaurant. The dinner invitation had been Beverly's, coming down to Monterey for this evening had been Jean-Luc's idea. "I know a place, quiet and with just fifteen tables and the service is unobtrusive and leisurely but excellent," he had said. "If you don't mind leaving San Francisco -- I know the Pasteur just docked yesterday and you're tired."
But Beverly had been curious and so she had said yes, despite feeling exhaustion in every inch of her body. As they'd approached the restaurant, Beverly had thought with some nostalgia she could no longer quite bounce back from missions as she once had. For that reason, this shore leave -- even if it was only for a week -- was a welcome respite from her duties aboard the Pasteur.
"Have they promoted you yet?" Beverly asked now as she broke off a chunk of thick crusted bread and dipped it into some olive oil.
"Not for the lack of trying," Jean-Luc answered.
"I have never understood that," Beverly said. She leaned forward, her hair grazing her cheeks. "Why you refuse to take opportunities when they come." She allowed a smile. "In a way, you're just like Will."
"Will has his command now."
"Yes, after turning down half a dozen."
"I am waiting for the right opportunity." Jean-Luc took another sip of wine.
Beverly considered and then she said, "There will never be another Enterprise."
Jean-Luc narrowed his eyes. "I know that."
"So, if you are looking for another crew like--"
Jean-Luc held up a hand. "All of you -- Will, Data, Geordi, Worf, Deanna, you." His voice softened as he looked across the table at her "I never thought for a moment you were replaceable." The flickering light made it difficult to see the expression in Jean-Luc's eyes clearly. "We choose to move on when we are ready."
"It worries me," Beverly said. She took a deep breath. Jean-Luc had never been the type to open up with his feelings, and only rarely had they tested their emotional boundaries with each other.
"You're afraid of what will happen to me now that all of you have moved on," Jean-Luc said.
Beverly relaxed slightly. "Something like that, yes." A moment passed and then she continued, "And how long have you been in San Francisco now? Six months? That's a long time for you, Jean-Luc. You've never been fond of the desk and yet, you've kept yourself tethered to one for half a year." Anticipating his excuse, Beverly decided to cut him off at the pass. "Yes, I know the Enterprise underwent a major retrofit that lasted a few months and so I understood why initially you chose to be earthbound, but then to hear you took a sabbatical? It's not like you, Jean-Luc." She stared at him with concern. "Your friends can't help but worry about you."
"Are you all talking about me then?" Amusement underlined Jean-Luc's tone.
It was impossible to keep anything from Jean-Luc. "Someone may have said something," Beverly said cautiously. "It's not like you."
"Is that why you're here now?" Jean-Luc asked. "To check up on me?"
"The Pasteur was in need of some maintenance--"
Jean-Luc shook his head. "I looked over the Pasteur's work requisitions. A plasma transfer conduit replacement can take place at any space dock," he said. "Tell the truth." He narrowed his eyes. "Who sent you? Deanna?"
"And what will you tell them?"
Beverly shrugged. She hadn't thought much past this evening. The restaurant's atmosphere, initially so warm and inviting, now felt claustrophobic. "It's not like that," she said. "Not at all." Out of the corner of her eye, Beverly could see the waitress approaching with their salads. Jean-Luc tipped his head in acknowledgement and Beverly murmured "Thank you."
"I enjoy being a captain," Jean-Luc said finally. "I don't think there's a position out there that can equal what I have experienced and done as Enterprise's captain, or even the Stargazer, for that matter."
Beverly didn't flinch at the mention of Jean-Luc's old command. Time had eased some of the pain of losing her husband under Picard's watch and the guilt over her own convoluted feelings for Jean-Luc had also started to evaporate. Still, the ghost of Jack Crusher would always remain as a tension between them. Beverly took a deep breath as she speared a tomato. "But you're not being a captain *now*."
"Is there anything wrong with spending a few months on terra firma?"
At this, Jean-Luc smiled." Your sources have misinformed you. My sabbatical is a year," Jean-Luc said. "With the option for another six months after that, if I'd like. I have a lot of vacation built up."
"I've been enjoying myself." He watched her carefully. "You don't believe me."
Beverly shook her head. "I'm sorry." She inhaled sharply, trying to decide a diplomatic way to broach the subject and then decided to throw caution to the wind. "It's been a while since anyone's heard from you, Jean-Luc," Beverly said. "Will and Deanna thought at first you were giving the space to adjust to their new billets, but then Geordi said he'd only seen you once even though he's in San Francisco as well. It just worries me you would isolate yourself from your friends, the people who care about you. I don't like to think of you by yourself."
Jean-Luc was quiet for a moment. Beverly laid her fork down gently on her plate and watched him. Had she pushed too hard? she wondered with some trepidation. It was only when he spoke she exhaled.
"You do not need to worry on that account," he said evenly. "I'm not alone, Beverly."
Beverly willed herself to not show any reaction. "So the rumors are true then?"
Jean-Luc resumed eating his salad. "You should get your story straight, Beverly. Are you here because you are worried about me or because you have heard some gossip?"
"Mostly the former, and somewhat, the latter."
"What have you heard?"
Beverly shrugged. "No real details. You know how things get skewered in translation." She allowed herself a smile. "I hear she's a red-head."
Jean-Luc carefully wiped his lips with the edge of the white linen napkin before looking back at Beverly. "That is correct."
"And she's a fellow captain?"
"What about fraternization?" Beverly pressed her hand hard against her thigh. She suddenly felt very cold, suddenly regretting the choice of the shoulder-baring dark green dress with the thin straps and the low-cut bodice. The cool gold chain around her neck was heavy against her skin. "Aren't there complications?" she asked as she reached for the lacy shawl she had brought along.
"We aren't in the same chain of command."
"I see." Beverly pressed her lips into a thin line. She knew fraternization had never been the issue when it came to her relationship with Jean-Luc; as chief medical officer, she had been outside his chain of command and for a year, she had been off Enterprise entirely. "Well, it sounds like things are working out for you then." She desperately wanted to find out more about the new woman in Jean-Luc's life, but she held back.
"For the record, Beverly," Jean-Luc said, pushing his salad plate away, "I'm very happy you've moved on. It was about time you received a command of your own." He smiled at her, his first of the evening. "You deserve it."
The compliment somehow rang hollow and Beverly wondered about the sudden distance between them, pondering whether it was imaginary or real. "Is that why you wanted to Monterey and not stay in San Francisco?" Beverly asked quietly. "Because you didn't want anyone to see us together?"
"I'm not that calculating, Beverly." Jean-Luc poured himself another glass of wine from the decanter and when he offered Beverly some, she shook her head.
"I'm just curious," she said. "That's all."
"There's nothing wrong with having dinner with an old friend," Jean-Luc said. "You know, Beverly--" his voice turned soft and contemplative "-- I thought about bringing you here many times."
Beverly sucked in her breath. "You did?"
Jean-Luc shook his head. "I never thought you'd say yes," he said. "So I held back. And then on Kes Prytt when our thoughts were linked--"
"Stop," Beverly said, her tone sharper than she'd intended. "I'm sorry about that, I've been sorry about that for a long time." It hurt to say the words. Her hand shook as she reached for her glass of water.
"But you were right," Jean-Luc said in a calm and even tone. "Just because there are--" he paused, seemingly groping around for the precise words and this took Beverly off-guard. She had always thought of Jean-Luc as a master orator, always in control. Except, of course, she reminded herself, when it came to matters of the heart.
"There's no need to dwell on the past," Beverly said quietly. "We're both where we need to be." She smiled her thanks at the waitress who took away the empty salad plates and replaced them with their entrees. "I'm convinced of it now, Jean-Luc."
"So I've set your mind at ease?"
Jean-Luc looked pensive. "We all make decisions, Beverly, and at the time--"
"Yes," she said. Impulsively, she reached out and covered Jean-Luc's hand with hers. "I understand. At the time." She withdrew her hand. "The food smells wonderful, Jean-Luc."
"The tomato sauce is perfect, very fresh," he said. "Does it seem to you restaurants serving non-replicated food are rare these days?"
Beverly carefully cut into her chicken. "I do get tired of the replicator when I'm on a mission, so fresh food is a treat," she said. "This is delicious."
Jean-Luc watched her intently. "I never brought her here."
Beverly blinked. "Who?"
"You should," Beverly said evenly. "I'm sure she'd like it."
Beverly smoothed her palm against the soft fabric of her dress and resumed eating. Occasionally, she'd look up and see Jean-Luc watching her and she'd offer him a tentative smile in return. Their conversation was polite, centering mostly on Beverly's most recent mission to the planet of Eitroc, the northern continent of which had been recently devastated by an extremely powerful earthquake.
"No matter how many times I've participated in a medical aid mission, I never quite get used to the grief and the suffering," Beverly said. "And sometimes, we just can't get there in time and the injuries and devastation are too much and people die regardless of our efforts. Sometimes, the only thing we can do is provide relief with physical objects -- blankets, bandages, medical equipment." She shook her head with some sorrow. "It never seems like enough, no matter how much we do and with all the technology we have."
"But you do the best you can with what you have."
"Yes," Beverly said. "Always."
"You are possibly one of the most determined and stubborn people I know," Jean-Luc said. "I know you always feel, regardless of the circumstances, there was always more you could have done."
"That's what worries me about you, about your drive for perfection and determination to ameliorate every situation you come across. When I hear about missions like Eitroc, I wonder about how you're holding up when you realize you cannot cure what ails an entire planet," Jean-Luc said. Beverly's fork clattered noisily on her white china plate. "Surprised?" he asked, with some amusement. "It can go both ways, Beverly." He didn't blink as he stared across the table at her.
Beverly swallowed hard. "I didn't realize--"
"That I worry too?"
"That you think about me still. Especially now. Given the circumstances." The words slipped out impulsively. Somewhat embarrassed, Beverly focused her attention on the candle in its red glass holder in the center of the table.
Jean-Luc reached out and brushed her jaw lightly with his fingers. "I suppose it will always be this way with us."
"Yes," Beverly said with some feeling. "I think so." She was no longer hungry, but forced down the last few bites of her entree. When Jean-Luc asked about dessert, she shook her head. "No," she said. "As you said before, I just got in and I only have a few days to get done what I need to, and--"
"I understand," Jean-Luc said quietly.
They shuttled back to San Francisco in relative silence. From above, Beverly admired the flickering lights of the city below and she felt a slight lurch in her stomach as the shuttle swooped down across the Bay and to the landing pad just beyond Starfleet Headquarters.
"Where are you staying?" Jean-Luc asked.
"HQ assigned me temporary quarters on the Officer's Row," Beverly said.
"Ah," Jean-Luc said. He waited for her to climb out of the shuttle. "That's not too far from here. I can see you to the door. There's should be another shuttle soon."
"Another shuttle?" Beverly looked at him in confusion.
"I-- we -- have a house on the other side of the Bay."
Beverly could feel the heat rising in her face, even though it was a cool night, remembering how she had tidied up before meeting Jean-Luc, with the anticipation of inviting him in for an after-dinner cognac. She hunched her shoulders, pulling the silk shawl around her shoulders a little more tightly. "Ah, I see," she said. "Well, there's no need for you to wait for another shuttle, Jean-Luc. I can see Officer's Row from here." She attempted a smile. "I will be fine. Really."
"It's no bother."
"No, no," Beverly said. "It's, it's really not necessary."
"Beverly. It's late." The firmness in his voice made it clear he intended to be obeyed.
As they walked towards the residential area of HQ, Beverly learned Jean-Luc and Kathryn had set up house across the Bay in Marin County.
"Does she know where you are?" Beverly asked.
"I told her I was having dinner with you."
"Weren't you worried about her reaction?"
"She has dinner with members of her former crew often."
"The circumstances aren't the same, unless she too has feelings for one of them." Embarrassed, Beverly shook her head. "I'm sorry. That was uncalled for."
"But a fair statement," Jean-Luc said. He stopped, and facing Beverly, gently clasped her hand in between his larger ones. She leaned forward in a deliberate motion and brushed her lips lightly against his cheek. His forehead pressed against hers and his other hand rested on the nape of her neck. Beverly didn't know how long they stood like that, only that for that all too brief moment, she no longer felt cold. She leaned into his embrace and closed her eyes when he kissed her firmly but without passion on the lips. When Jean-Luc released her, she took a stumbling step backwards.
"It's late," she said quietly, feeling the heaviness in her word choice. "You'd better get home. Kathryn--" it was difficult to say the woman's name without an emotional inflection "-- will be waiting. Good night, Jean-Luc. Thank you for a lovely evening."
"You're welcome. And do let me know when you're in San Francisco again."
Beverly hated this sudden and cold formality between them. "I will." She went inside and instead of taking the lift, slowly took the stairs. Her feet were blistered in her green sandals and she was grateful to take them off once inside her quarters. She dropped her shawl on the sofa and went to the window to close the shades. From her vantage point, two stories up, she could see Jean-Luc walking slowly back towards the shuttle stop, his shoulders curved and his head down. Beverly closed her eyes. Epiphanies, she thought with some regret, always came too late.
~ the end
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