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Title: Permutation (Synthesis part 5)
Rating: PG-13
Pairing(s): Beverly Crusher/Jean-Luc Picard, Will Riker/Deanna Troi
Warning(s): none
Summary: episode AU for S7.08 "Attached" Will and Deanna take the Kesprytt mission instead.
Beta: [livejournal.com profile] lanna_kitty is so totally way beyond awesome! All mistakes are completely mine.
Disclaimer: TNG does not belong to me.
A/N: What do you do in Korea? Write Jean-Luc & Beverly vast babyfic AUs. Obviously. *whistles*

part 1 || part 2 || part 3 || part 4



Three cases of contained Rigelian flu, one knee replacement, and a twisted elbow from engineering. It was quiet in sickbay and Beverly was grateful for the respite. With Will and Deanna down on the planet, there wasn't even a mission report that required a staff meeting and she was free to spend time on her research. Alyssa called it lurking in the lab, which she was more accurate than she wanted to admit. It was easier to handle her headache in the quiet of the lab. Digging her thumbs into the base of her eyebrows, Beverly temporarily shocked the pain out of her forehead. It became a dizzy, floating sensation instead. Hoping it would remain that way for awhile, she sighed and turned back to the multi-spectrum viral microscope.

Beverly had the quarantine field up to level four, and the lab was bathed in pale blue light. She'd collected a new strain of the Cardassian Urythnocoelial virus during their rendezvous with the medical ship Blackwell. She had faith in the quarantine field. The virus only required level three precautions but she was acutely conscious of the vulnerable life within her. The Urythnocoelial virus was most dangerous to Cardassian children, but she couldn't help feeling a little nervous. Doctor Quaice had used to tease her that a little nervousness was what kept bad doctors from being good and good doctors from killing themselves. Thankfully, they no longer used needles in medical research and the doubly protected pipette she used to deal with the samples was airtight.

After a few minutes, the field in her microscope swam before her eyes and Beverly swore as she pulled her head away. Blinking helped a little, but her head hurt again. Her stomach was off as well, but the twisting was too vague to be nausea. At the moment, her stomach was more manageable than her headache and she pulled back from the counter. Rubbing her temples, she checked the time. Her console read nearly thirteen-thirty. She knew she should eat before her nausea returned. If she was lucky, Jean-Luc might be free for lunch.

Shutting down the viral microscope, she activated the tiny transporter that returned the sample to containment. Placing the pipet into the sterile field, she left her chair. Beverly pushed the pressure points beneath her eyebrows with her thumbs and wondered if it would be wrong to numb her own head for the next five months.

“Computer, run a full bioscan of medlab three. Containment protocol level four. Full viral decontamination.”

“Working.” The blue light grew brighter, than disappeared. “Medlab three is clear.”

Moving to the doorway, she closed her eyes and let the decontamination field run over her body.

“Cleared,” the computer chimed. “No biological organisms detected.”

Heading for her office, Beverly took the data padd of updates from one of her duty nurses. Reading it as she headed for her desk, she didn’t see Deanna's preliminary report on Kesprytt and bit her lip in annoyance. She had an entire report to prepare for Starfleet Medical and Deanna should have been aware of that. Kicking herself for not fighting Jean-Luc more that morning, she sank into her chair.

She should have just gone on the damn mission. She couldn’t do anything without Deanna’s report and her headache was currently too much for viral research. Tossing the padd angrily on the desk, she rubbed her temples again. The hypospray of bicaridine right into her brain stem was starting to seem like a good idea.

“Alyssa,” Beverly called impatiently. After a moment her petite, dark haired nurse peered her head around the corner. “Why don’t I have a report about the Kes? Counselor Troi left six hours ago, surely we’ve heard something.”

Alyssa looked down at the floor before she spoke. The pause was maddening enough that Beverly almost snapped at her and reminded her to continue.

“Doctor,” Alyssa replied apologetically. “I thought you knew.”

“Knew what?” she demanded with a bitter smile. “I’ve been in my lab all morning. I wouldn’t have known in sickbay was on fire.”

The other woman’s face fell. “Commander Riker and Counselor Troi were involved in some kind of transporter accident. I heard from Andrew over lunch was that they’ve been kidnapped by the Prytt.”

The subtle fluttering disappeared as guilt tightened her stomach into a knot and brought her nausea back. “I didn’t-” she began, “-I’ll be on the bridge,” she recovered.

Alyssa’s expression was instantly sympathetic and Beverly berated herself for being so harsh. “Yes, Doctor.”

She wanted to beat herself up because she’d known this was coming. Leaning against the wall of the turbolift with one arm, she sighed heavily. She’d been unable to think of anything but Jean-Luc when she’d gotten herself pregnant. She couldn’t lose him and she’d been completely caught up in that. After Jack, she’d lost faith in her own ability to cope with another hole in her life. She'd been selfish.

When the lift opened onto the bridge, Deanna and Will's absence from command was palpable. On a normal day, they'd both be on the bridge. Instead, Data sat in the center seat and nodded to her as she arrived, “Doctor, may I be of service?”

Stopping herself from fidgeting with the pockets of her lab coat was impossible. She bit her lip and hoped Data wasn’t getting the wrong impression. “The captain?”

“In the ready room,” Data offered. “Shall I page him for you?”

“No, thank you, Data.” She stopped just outside the door and turned back to the android. “Any word on our away team?”

“A Kes delegation is currently working from on board the Enterprise to help us locate Commander Riker and Counselor Troi,” he reported. “Captain Picard is still searching for a way to open diplomatic relations with the Prytt. As of two hours ago, we have had no other information.”

She smiled faintly at him before she turned to the ready room door. All the thoughts in her mind stopped whirling chaotically when she focused on Jean-Luc. “I’ll be quick Data.”

“The length of time of your discourse is not a concern, doctor.”

Anything she said would have been far more sarcastic than Data deserved, so she continued into the ready room. As she’d expected, Jean-Luc sat there in silence, hunched over his data terminal. The cup of tea near his hand was half empty and probably cold. Clearing her throat drew his attention when the sound of the doors had not. Beverly pulled her hands out of her lab coat and crossed her arms over her chest.

“Doctor-”

“Jean-Luc-” she interrupted. Using his name changed the mood from professional to personal and he caught it immediately.

When he looked at her understanding flooded his face. “You’re upset."

Pacing in a slow line in front of the door, she felt rage boil up in her throat. Shaking her head, she began, "Will and Deanna-"

"-Are missing," he finished for her as he shut off his computer terminal. "If you and I had taken the mission, we'd be missing."

His bluntness surprised her and she turned to see him setting his tea into the replicator. Rubbing his hands together, he moved towards her. He smiled thinly, leaned against his desk and watched her pace.

“Are you here for lunch?” Jean-Luc asked calmly.

His placid expression only made the fire in her chest worse. “It was supposed to be you and I,” she reminded him as she ignored the question. “Not Deanna and Will.”

His dry chuckle was deeply sardonic. “Because you and I trapped on an alien world while Commander Riker resolves never to let me go on an away mission again would be better than this?” His tone was also harsher than he’d used with her for some time. “Dealing with what you went through this morning in a Prytt holding cell would definitely be better than worrying about Will and Deanna.”

“Don’t turn this on me,” she snapped back at him, surprised by the ferocity of her temper. “You pulled us off the mission.”

“You were up at oh four hundred, vomiting,” he retorted. “You’ve also been having stress headaches and dizzy spells. It was irresponsible of me to allow you to be slated for this mission in the first place and I owe you an apology for that oversight. I’m relieved you’re on the Enterprise because there's no telling what could happen down there.”

Pulling herself up straight, she glared at him and wished she could melt him into the desk. Pointing out the tall window, she reminded him sharply, “It is my job to be down there on the planet.”

“It is not anymore,” he thundered. The outburst stopped her thoughts from racing any further. He'd left the desk and now blocked her view of the planet. Taking a deep breath, he straightened his uniform. “You made a conscious choice to undertake a very personal responsibility. I am acutely aware of how vulnerable that has made both of us. Beverly-"

"I am the chief medical officer-"

He caught her wrist and held it gently. "You're also carrying our child."

He was right and that made her lightheaded. Pulling free of him, she sank into the sofa and put her head in her hands. Yelling at him had actually helped her headache, though she still felt off. It wasn't just guilt wrecking havoc on her system. Beverly could blame hormones for most of her symptoms. Her body had been asked to work miracles in a very short time and adapting was more difficult than she realized.

Jean-Luc touched her knee and crouched in front of her. "One thing I've learned as captain is that the hardest part is letting others risk themselves. Throwing oneself into the line of fire is one thing, sitting back and allowing, even ordering someone to go to their death, that's the hard part."

Sighing in frustration, she pulled her head up and grimaced. "Jean-Luc, I know your burden of command speech."

"We got into this without looking," he reminded her. "Somehow as blind as we both were to our feelings, we stumbled into this-this gift. Now we have a responsibility to the well-being of this child.”

“I got us into this,” she sighed and smiled down weakly at him. “I didn’t even ask your permission.”

“Well, I do expect to be involved next time,” he teased.

She knew he was trying to coax her into smiling, Beverly just couldn't manage it. “I didn’t even know they were missing,” she admitted wearily. “I’ve been in the lab all morning.”

The sudden wash of weakness was like a downpour putting out a forest fire. Beverly felt even less stable than she had when she’d walked in. Without the anger keeping her headache and guilt away, she felt both emotionally and physically wretched. His hands took hers and cradled them inside his own. The warmth of his touch was comforting but her guilt lodged in her throat like a stone.

“Beverly," he looked up from her hands and smiled warmly. "I am not required to ask your permission to care for you and this child. I need you to understand that my feelings for you are not part of an idle infatuation or sense of duty. I do not worry about you simply because of your physical condition." His grip on her hands tightened and his hazel eyes stared into hers. "Love is not an emotion that I easily bestow. Once given, I cannot deny my feelings nor can I ignore my responsibility, even my need, to protect you.”

In the silence that followed, she tried to process the depth of his admission and simply felt overwhelmed. The fog in Beverly's head seemed thick enough to dim the sounds in the room. “I never asked you to love me,” she whispered.

He reached up and tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear. Jan-Luc would never allow himself the gesture anywhere other than behind a closed door. The intimacy of it was enough to make her eyes sting. Beverly felt the strange twisting of her stomach again and wondered if it was a misplaced emotional response.

“There are some moments that require no invitation,” he responded. Reaching up and holding his hand against her cheek, Jean-Luc smiled.

“Well then,” he returned to his feet and flicked his eyes to the replicator. “Did you come up here just to verbally eviscerate me or is it safe to assume you have time for lunch?”




“I’m not sure how much faith I have in the author of this map,” Deanna teased. She pulled herself up to the one of the ledges and took the chance to shake soreness out of her fingers.

“Through the fire swamp and up the cliff face?” Will said. It sounded like he was smiling and Deanna could feel his dark humor. His face was buried in the rock and she couldn’t see it. His thoughts were calm, centered on the next hold and the next footrest. In a way, it was actually easier to climb as she shared his thoughts. Together they possessed a higher level of concentration than either of them alone.

“I think we’re a pretty good match,” he agreed with her train of thought. Will paused with one hand off the wall as he looked for the next hold. “I can almost feel the scrape on your leg and the way your hair is hot and sticking to the back of your neck.”

Chuckling as she pulled her hair tighter into the knot she’d twisted it into, she teased him back. “Why do you still have the beard if it itches so much?”

“Because I look like an ensign without it,” he called down to her. Will’s annoyance that his boots were less flexible than proper climbing shoes appeared in her head along with the unrelated memory of being Ensign Babyface.

Reaching up to continue the climb, Deanna kept her mind on the rocks and felt Will's concentration add to her own. The ache in his fingers was the same. The grit in his mouth was identical and they were both thirsty. Will was running through a piece of jazz to distract himself. When she reached the top, Deanna realized she was humming with him.

“I don’t even know this,” she remarked with a shake of her head.

Will brushed dirt from his uniform and shrugged. “‘Mack the Knife’, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald,” he explained as he pointed to the tricorder. “What’s next?”

“We head down this slope, and follow this red squiggle until it hits the green line in the black dot--”

He laughed and shared the amusement she was hiding behind her overly serious expression. He did want to take the tricorder, but he was too polite to say so.

“About eighteen kilometers,” she answered more seriously. Will began another song in his head and they walked side by side in silence. His dedication to the tune and tempo was enough that he could have been playing a recording in her mind.

“You’re better than marching music,” she observed after he started into the next tune.

“Keeps me busy,” he said aloud. He wondered if they even needed to bother speaking and Deanna mused that hearing each other’s voices was comforting.

“You’re right,” Will agreed with a ruefully shake of his head. “What do you think these things were designed to do? That guard said something about our psi wave patterns.”

Thinking that telepathic technology was rarely accurate, Deanna watched him smile in response. “I believe they were trying to use these as some kind of mapping tool. A way to pick specific thoughts out of our minds.”

“And since you and I are already connected?” He asked.

Will already had an answer in his head and she agreed with his train of thought. Their bond, coupled with her mental abilities had obviously strengthened and bent the implants in a direction their makers hadn’t intended. The commander part of his mind took that connection and realized it could be a valuable tool to keep them both safe. It might even work tactically if necessary. She noted that his mind hadn’t always been that organized.

Will’s thoughts retorted that she hadn’t always been that analytical and Deanna chuckled as they walked side by side.



She drank coffee out of habit. Jean-Luc knew she was too responsible to allow herself to do anything to harm the baby. Even though the replicators couldn’t pull the caffeine out and produce a cup that tasted right, she still drank coffee. He could see Beverly swirl the metal mug of dark liquid and tapped at her report. The Kes had transmitted up some data, most of it rudimentary, but it was enough to start her report for Starfleet Medical. She expected it to take most of the day to sift through it all.

He crossed his arms over his chest and stood near the door to sickbay. He’d been on his way up from the guest quarters they had allowed the Kes Ambassador to use, and he’d been compelled to stop. Jean-Luc didn’t need to break her concentration and speak with her. He had needed to see her, if only to help him think.

He’d confessed over lunch that he was starting to doubt the Kes were ready for Federation membership. He would save his pronouncement until he knew more, but he trusted his instincts. Paranoid, overly cautious, suspicious races didn’t do well when they were asked to interact with so many others. Ambassador Mauric insisted that all Will and Deanna needed to do was follow the map and meet his spies, then they'd sneak through the border and be safe. Jean-Luc didn't trust him or his plan.

Mulling over it in the ready room would let him put his thoughts in final order. His stop in sickbay was personal, a few moments where he would allow his mind to rest on something other than duty.

In her office, Beverly had stopped writing her report and now had her head buried in her hands. Her fingers dug into her scalp and he realized the headaches weren't just an end of the shift problem, as she'd been trying to convince him. He'd stared at a computer screen long enough to give himself a few headaches, but for her it was only an hour after lunch.

Shaking herself out of it and bringing her eyes back to her work, Beverly turned in her chair and reached for a data padd. Somehow she managed to dislodge the entire stack on the shelf behind her desk and several of them clattered to the floor. When they hit, they danced along the carpet. Hearing her curse, he winced sympathetically from across sickbay as the some of the padds slipped out of reach.

Beverly favored her left hip as she crossed her office and retrieved the padd she wanted. It had landed beneath a piece of medical equipment. She paused to knead her fingers into the obviously sore joint and he wondered how he’d missed that behavior and the slight frown that accompanied it.

It was possible that it was a difficult day or that when she’d slept her hip had been pressed oddly against the bed. He knew she hadn’t slept well. When they’d finally made it back to bed after her episode of nausea, she’d slept curled up in a ball at his side. Jean-Luc had enough trouble going to sleep before he'd known she was ill. After she'd been sick, he had become acutely sensitive. Every sound in their quarters dragged him back from sleep and each time she moved, he woke for a few seconds just to make sure she was all right. Listening for a comm summoning him awake was one thing; sleeping next to someone who might need him was something else. Even if it was the middle of the night, he was uncomfortable letting her be ill alone. Jean-Luc was unaccustomed to that type of responsibility.

It wasn't just sharing the space in his bed and her sleeping patterns to which Jean-Luc had to adapt. His books moved when he wasn't home. The shelves where he had kept some of his art were places where she needed to keep her plants and everything in their quarters shifted. He'd had her as a constant breakfast companion, but now they shared dinner and lunch when they could fit it in to their schedules. Beverly's socks ended up on the floor and forgotten cups of tea plagued both of them. The time where he'd known exactly where all of his things were in his quarters had ended abruptly when she'd arrived.

Someone cleared her throat behind him and he turned, burying surprise on his face.

“Can I help you, sir?” Nurse Ogawa asked politely. “Doctor Crusher isn't busy if you need a moment of her time.”

Tugging his jacket down sharply, he attempted not to let his smile appear too foolish. He didn't want to admit he’d already gotten what he needed. Waiting made him uneasy and knowing Will and Deanna were in danger made it fairly impossible to sit on the bridge. Touring the ship served the dual purpose of easing his mind and reminding the crew of his faith in them. His stop in sickbay had been more for his peace of mind than anything else. Jean-Luc was almost relieved that seeing her was all he needed to put his mind at rest.

“Thank you Ensign,” he replied politely. “I’m quite well, thank you.”

Escaping through the sickbay doors was an ungainly exit, but it got him out of sickbay before he was caught. Jean-Luc spent a moment filing the tightening of Beverly’s eyebrows and the frown that accompanied her discomfort into his thoughts. He knew how to read most of her facial expression from years of friendship. The smaller nuances that came from being lovers were adding to what he understood of her and he had time to develop those senses. Understanding her pregnancy was more time-sensitive, he only had a few months to define his role.

Jean-Luc sighed and scratched the back of his head as the turbolift brought him back up to the bridge. The mission came first and by the time the turbolift opened, the Kes, the Prytt and his missing officers were all that was on his mind.



Deanna closed her as she walked and forcibly steered his mind away from food the only way she knew how. Thinking vividly of the way it felt when he licked her inner thigh was enough to make him stop walking.

"Not fair," he complained. Will's eyes twinkled and he shook his head as he caught up with her.

They'd discovered immediately after getting out of the caves that being more than a meter apart made them both violently nauseated. It was easy enough to walk together. Their difficulties came from sharing their thoughts. Too many of their random thoughts amplified and played off each other. When he was thirsty, she was thirsty. When he was hungry the only way she'd found to take both of their minds off of food was to think about making love.

She mused that it was better to be thinking about sexual satisfaction than food. The tricorder had been unable to find anything they could eat but they'd be able to make love. Deanna had more faith in that then their rescue.

Will found that dark thought amusing. "You're much more bitter than you let on," he taunted her as they wandered down the sunlit slope. "The captain will find us."

Deanna nodded and tried to brighten her thoughts.

Sensing the change, he paused and touched her shoulder. "You don't have to cheer up for me. I can handle a little bitter."

"You're right," she agreed. Deanna smiled at him and continued trying to follow the map. It wound through muddled topographical lines. When Will looked at it, he was as confused as she was, so they made the best of it. Being together was being lost alone and both of them depended on each others presence to keep up their spirits. Will thought it was pleasant. He felt it was a renewal for them and the first step on a journey that would take them home to each other. His thoughts were as bright and warm as the sun on their faces.

She drew no comfort from his cheer. Burying her thoughts deep, Deanna barely acknowledged them herself. As the afternoon wore on the implant grew more attuned to her, she started to get flashes of Will's hopes and dreams.

In his waking daydreams, Will was standing on the bridge of the Enterprise, wearing the fourth pip of a Starfleet captain. He saw himself breaking in his own first officer and molding his own crew. This vision had been with him a long time. It was as much a part of him as his dread of "Nightbird" and his favorite blue shirt. However, he'd been toying with his vision. Changing the ship and altering the players who stood with him, Will's had shifted his priorities.

Deanna let her own thoughts drift to the captain and Beverly. She knew baiting him with her mind would be easier than drawing him out with words. As a counselor, it was wrong to manipulate him with her thoughts. As his friend, it was questionably ethical. As his lover, she needed to know.

Remembering the strength of his sympathy, Deanna thought about being back in the runabout. When he'd told her Beverly was pregnant back on the Mendel, Will had dredged up emotions that she hadn't felt in him before. Children had been something he kept in the back of his mind. They were pleasant enough, but he wasn't driven to make them a priority. Having a family was something Will had been able to live without. Other than Worf, all of his close friends were single and childless. Worf had never intended to have a family but he and Alexander had learned to find balance.

Though well adjusted, Alexander was just one more child who had lost a parent. None of her inner circle of friends on the Enterprise had both parents living. Most didn't even have one, and no matter what Will might think, it felt irresponsible to bring an innocent in to the world just to have them face that kind of terrible loss. Deanna knew what is was to be the last hope for her mother.

She was the last living Troi in a proud line of women reaching back centuries. If she had no children, the line would move to a cousin. Her mother would fuss, perhaps even take a second daughter in the eyes of succession. Lwaxana could even still have another child. Betazoid women remained fertile much longer than human women. She could even tag Beverly's daughter as the next holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx.

Trying to picture the captain going through the ceremony of joining, Deanna realized she'd slipped above the surface. Her thoughts had broken through what little remained of her privacy.

Will's polite confusion floated into her mind.

"Sorry," she responded. "I keep thinking-"

"-About the captain," Will finished.

Deanna felt Will's thoughts join hers in softer hues. Thinking about the captain's recent emotional caste sent her into a warmer, more vulnerable place. Letting Will pull that sense of color out of her mind, Deanna felt him redefine it as music. What she experienced as washes of pink and orange, Will heard as slow piano music.

"It's something we didn't see," Will reminded her. "They've known each other a very long time. They've always been close. I think you were the one who asked me what I'd do if it were you and I-"

"-It wouldn't be you and I," she jumped on him. She'd give her life, without hesitation, for Will. What Beverly had done was irrational, outside of her realm of understanding and not something Deanna would consider. Having a child she'd have to raise on her own in a misguided attempt to save him wasn't a possibility. The force of her thought surprised him and they both stopped walking.

His confusion seeped through her like cold fog.

"You can't know what it feels like," she tried to explain. Will's thoughts were still vague and she shook her head.

Will scratched the back of his neck and fingered the implant thoughtfully. "Then show me," he suggested.

"What?"

"These implants, they're some kind of projectors," he put his thoughts together as he spoke. "Just think about it. Take everything you're afraid of and send it to me. It doesn't have to make sense. I think I'll be able to sort it out."

Shaking her head again, Deanna started to walk down the path. She didn't bother hiding her doubt. The stony ground rattled under her feet as loose rocks rolled down the hill.

Will caught her arm and stopped her. "Hey--"

"You won't understand."

His smile and the rush of confidence that followed across the link reminded her of the young Will Riker.

Sighing heavily, Deanna stopped walking and tried to concentrate. Her abilities were usually limited to receiving. Sending a full emotional picture was outside of her usual talents and Deanna focused before she attempted sending anything. Sharing words back and forth with her mother and other telepaths was as simple as speaking. Sending to Will took slightly more effort, but the implant made Will's mind seem like an extension of her own. She didn't intend the first thought to be fear. Deanna had been trying to suppress it but it floated over to him as if drawn by a magnet. Following on that trail, her sense of betrayal rose like a wreck from the floor of her soul. Deanna's frustration stirred the dark water and dredged thoughts that had no connection up with it.

She'd tried to convince herself that she was comfortable with Will knowing she was afraid. She'd tried to explain it to him. Will even thought he understood. Neither of them was prepared the emotion clinging the the wreck like dead seaweed. Deanna's disgust with herself had a almost palpable scent to it. She hadn't noticed it until she tried to share it with him. As if it had soaked in seawater too long, the clinging emotion reeked of being forgotten.

Neither of them could break the connection, so the feeling hung suspended between them. Deanna felt like she'd covered them both in brackish water. Will started walking again, letting her thoughts sort into his mind. His acceptance was a sharp contrast to the dark sea that was her own mind. Will's thoughts were quiet, pleasant, like a field of trees covered in snow.

He had a clarity in his mind that she lacked. Her own nudging stab of jealousy made him smile as he caught her arm.

"You hate the idea of being pregnant," Will found immediately. Pausing, he sorted through her thoughts like they were wet debris of an ancient lost vessel. Finding a fragment he recognized, he began looking for answers. "Hey, Ian wasn't your fault," he reminded her. Will's concern felt as bright as sun glinting off snow.

The dark water in her mind retreated a little. Deanna knew instinctively there were rocks beneath the surface, emotions of which she was only slightly aware, and she needed them. Her metaconscious intimidated her slightly but she knew it was the stronger part of her.

"What happened to you was like being raped-" he continued.

Wondering why he'd gotten that out the mess of tangled emotion in Deanna's mind, she felt his thoughts and only found caring and concern. Frustrated, she pulled away from him and kept them following the map.

"It wasn't rape."

"He certainly didn't ask your permission," Will argued. She kept the pace brisk and he thought they were running away from something.

Deanna kept walking and he heard her thought before she voiced it.

"It was pleasant?" he asked, searching for words. "You enjoyed his conception."

Will was with her mind as she tried to come up with a more coherent answer. Dragging up the memory of how she'd felt when she'd woken the night Ian conceived himself, Deanna felt him empathize. He understood from his own varied sexual experiences that sensations didn't always rationalize. He comprehended better that she'd expected.

"That was never what bothered you," he realized.

Speaking aloud helped him concentrate, she noticed. Deanna was starting to lose track of what was thought and what was speech but it didn't matter. With the amplifier Will was nearly a match for the raw power of a Betazoid, but he had none of the control. What her mother could have pulled easily from her mind, he had stumbled on by accident.

"You would have been fine if he- Ian- the being had just been curious about you. Sex- or whatever it was, that was fine. You're at peace with that," he stopped, grinning. "Hey, I would be too if it felt like that--" he cut off, smiling. Will's amusement and arousal floated across the link like a warm rush of air. "You woke up pregnant," he kept speaking and the words seemed to leap from her head into his mouth. "You felt violated by that. Giving birth to him, raising him, all of that was forced on to you. Deanna-"

She didn't want to listen but Will was too far into her mind. Her barriers were stripped of their efficacy, Will pass through them like nothing was there. What little privacy she'd had left was fading as he grew more accustomed to the process.

"-Deanna, no one could blame you for not being comfortable with that," his voice slipped into her head. "You had thirty-six hours to deal with being a mother and two days to become a parent."

Sharing her disagreement, Deanna shut her eyes and looked for the thought she'd tried to keep buried beneath the water. Her mind felt murky. The water was mired with the blame she still carried. He hadn't found the thought she hated herself for. She had to guide him to it, as if she was moving his hands for him through the water. She knew sharing it with him would make him understand.

Her memory of relief coursed through them both. It had been so much easier when Ian had died. She had cried and mourned him, then her life returned to normal. She hadn't been expected to keep the responsibility of him. Ian had gone as he had come. Old pain still echoed through her, like lightning over the sea, but five years ago she'd been relieved. Ian's death had released her, absolved her of her feelings and let her return to her life.

Will's thoughts were confused. Regret that he hadn't seen her feelings mixed with his desire to understand.

Letting the dark little thought go, Deanna felt like she'd released something wicked that had been long tethered to the bottom of her soul. Having children was asking for the loss and pain that came with them. Single parenthood, miscarriage, drowning, and eight-year-old boys who believed their suicides would save hundreds of lives all rushed through her mind. Her mother had been strong and independent before she married. Lwaxana had known fear existed but it wasn't until Kestra's death that the darkness came to live within her.

Showing Will that darkness, Deanna reminded him of the incredible guilt that had nearly killed her mother. Navigating his way through the waves, Will steered through storm in her mind. He'd seen something else and a glimmer of thought tantalized them both from beneath the surface. He found it first and dragged it out of the water. Mentally brushing it off, Will brought it to the light.

Neither of them was prepared for the sudden rush of jealousy and misplaced hurt. Will's thoughts stabilized faster. She could feel him solidify. He touched her shoulder and his large hand dragged her back to reality.

"It doesn't have to be like that," he insisted earnestly. "We all lose people we care about. People still have children because it makes them happy."

"Oh yes," Deanna retorted. She shook off his hand and started walking again. If they kept stopping, they'd never reach their rendezvous. "Having a baby is what makes people happy. It made my mother happy. It makes the captain happy. It makes Beverly happy--"

Will stopped walking a pace behind her and grabbed both of her shoulders. He steered her over to a group of scrubby trees and halted them. He stared at her. His blue eyes were gentle but Deanna could feel his demand for clarification in her mind. "You're angry with her?"

"Of course I'm angry with her!" Finally admitting it was like switching the gravity back to normal after spending weeks with it far too high. Deanna felt her arms go rigid. She'd helped Beverly work through her guilt, she'd been supportive with the captain and all of it was professionally fine. They were her friends and her colleagues and she cared for them both but part of her still raged. It was illogical and she'd put it out of her mind until Will had dragged it up.

"Ian has to kill himself because the ship's in danger, but Beverly can twist the same procedure and absolutely everything is fine?" Her chest ached and angry tears had invaded her eyes without her noticing. They ran hot down her cheeks as her breathing lost rhythm.

"It doesn't matter that you didn't want him," Will voiced her thought for her. "It's all right. You're still allowed to be angry. It's an unfair situation."

She skipped over his explanation and kept talking. The words came with her thoughts and Will winced as her anger slammed into him. "My mother berates me for not getting married and having a child when those two things didn't actually make her happy. They made her miserable. Losing my father and Kestra ripped her apart."

"Ian didn't do that to you," he realized as the thought sang between them like lightning. "When Ian died, you were relieved. Hurt, abandoned but relieved that you didn't need to take care of him anymore. He gave you your life back." He pulled her in and hugged her. She could smell the sweat and dirt on his uniform but she appreciated the safety he represented. "Deanna, it's all right. You are entitled to feel whatever you feel. Your relationship with your mother changed when the people around you died and it's horrible. It was like that with my father. Your mother got overprotective, my father got cold. Life doesn't turn out the way we plan."

His optimism was too saccharine and Deanna couldn't share it. It passed through her mind without a real effect. Will thought she would eventually come around to his view of the universe but she couldn't help disagreeing. The universe was dark and harsh. Bringing a child into it was a foolish kind of self-indulgence, Deanna had no intention of sharing that delusion.

He felt her argument and put it aside. Will was content to hold her until her tears stopped. He was comfortable trying to balance being her friend and lover. She needed an emotional port in the storm and Will was content to be used as such. He thought there might be something deeper, but she had a hard time agreeing.

Her imzadi's thoughts entwined deeper into her own and she began to realize that their paths might be more separate than she had ever believed. He wanted children. Deanna could feel that in his head. It was like noticing a brilliant blue flower she'd overlooked in the green all around it. Will's hopes for the future had changed. The Captain Riker fantasy had started to include a wife and children. Deanna had no idea how he intended to bring it about, however it was starting to solidify in his head. The next time he was offered a command, he would take it. Will was ready to move on.

He kissed her forehead and mistook the reason for her calm. Years of experience with her thoughts had given her great emotional control and his telepathy was new enough to him that she could still hide some of her thoughts. Will would always be dear to her heart but for the first time in years, she began to doubt if he would ever occupy it fully again.



Beverly was certain she’d just replicated her tea, but when she lifted the cup it was cold. Pulling his short blue robe tighter around her shoulders, she settled deeper into her chair. Her legs were folded beneath her and her boots were in a heap by the door. She'd had an idea when she'd walked in and she had gone straight to the computer. It hadn't helped. Her head ached and her mind had wandered.

Trying to force her mind to behave, she tapped the stylus on the computer display of the protein coat. The Urythnocoelial virus curled around itself on the screen, like a spring wound tightly into a a larger donut shape. She’d been able to get it to replicate well in a standard growth medium. The little spikes, clearly visible at normal resolution on a sub-electron scanning microscope, were the visible evidence of the mutation that had stumped the Blackwell. Beverly had the time and the resources because her position on the Enterprise meant she had one of the best labs in the fleet.

Keeping busy was also necessary because it prevented her from feeling her guilt. She couldn’t do anything to help Will and Deanna until they were rescued and it wore into her.

Understanding the Urythnocoelial virus mutation enough to prevent an outbreak was her first priority. Starfleet Medical would certainly come up with a cure, but professional pride suggested she should be able to do it first. The Enterprise’s medical labs were more than prepared to produce a vaccine, she berated herself. It was her chief medical officer that wasn’t functioning up to specifications. The virus was a reasonably simple torovirus with minor protein variations. It should have been easy to decode.

Setting down her cold tea, she wracked her brain for the answer that would counteract the mutation. The glass rattled slightly against the surface of the desk as she tapped her fingers. Beverly shoved her tea on the far corner of his desk where she couldn’t hit it with an elbow. Somehow under the influence of this baby, everything that wasn’t tied down or part of the ship was in danger of being knocked over.

Tea on his books would not be acceptable to either of them. Apologizing would damage her emotional control to the point where she either snapped or sobbed and neither of those seemed like a good way to end the night. Sighing at the cold cup of dark liquid, Beverly wondered if she should get up and put it away into the replicator.

Lowering her head to her chest, she acknowledged both her headache and the pain in her neck. The vagueness of the pain behind her forehead suggested it was just another hormonal thing. At least her stomach had quieted enough that she was reasonably certain she was hungry. Their late dinner would still need to be something simple, but she was looking forward to him returning so she could eat.

Jean-Luc was probably still trapped in a pointless, paranoid discussion with Ambassador Mauric or trying to track down whoever was in charge of the Prytt. Beverly checked the chronometer again and decided to give him until twenty-two hundred before she ate without him.

Tapping her fingers along the desk, her thoughts coalesced and she suddenly realized how simple it was. The protein coat was folded in three places along the dorsal axis. The original virus only had two folds. That was it, the beginning of the mutation that had changed the virus. Leaning down to peer closer at the screen, Beverly didn’t even realize she was biting her lip until the sting cut into her thoughts.

The spikes were part of the airborne, zooanotic mutation that Captain R’Pau had been so concerned about. The extra fold had started the virus along the path towards addition mutation and once it started--

"What are you?" she asked the virus on her screen.

Her stomach twitched in response and it suddenly hit her that she hadn't been talking to the baby. Beverly hadn't let herself talk to the fetus yet. She'd talked to Wesley. Sometimes while she'd been studying, he'd been subjected to a running commentary on her anatomy lessons. This time she hadn't said a word. Being pregnant with Wesley had introduced new sensations, some of them almost painful. Why did she expect this time to be different? Why did every unexplained firing of a nerve make her nervous?

Beverly didn't think she was nauseated again, but the fluttering that appeared at random intervals was actively distracting. Now that she no longer had her work to occupy her she felt worse. She knew the nerves surrounding her internal organs were few and indistinct. She couldn't expect to instantly know what was happening to her. Intellectually, she understood that the reordering of her internal organs would be uncomfortable. On a deeper level, she was terrified.

She'd cheated fate and used an untried, unproven, potentially deadly method to bring this baby into being. It was going to die. Each time she wasn't nauseated, Beverly worried she was miscarrying. Whenever she felt sick, she hated herself for being foolish enough to cause the pregnancy in the first place. She'd backed herself into a corner and let herself get so worked up she'd missed what mattered.

The fetus was moving. Her body wasn't getting ready to let the tissue slough and give up the forced pregnancy. Even though she had not acknowledged the baby's presence as a living thing. It-she- Beverly corrected herself, was viscerally real.

“Congratulations,” his voice startled her out of her work and Beverly jolted up from the computer screen.

Staring at him in shock, Beverly blinked. “What?”

“You’re making your victory face,” he explained as he took her tea from the edge of the desk and brought it to the replicator. As it vanished, he slipped between her and the desk and kissed her forehead.

The warmth of his lips eased her headache momentarily. Reaching up for his shoulder, she held him there for a moment. Closing her eyes, she sighed and concentrated on the feel of his muscles through his uniform. “Will and Deanna?”

“On the lam in the Prytt countryside,” he answered gently. “They’re all right. They should meet Ambassador Mauric’s contact in the morning and be home before supper.”

Opening her eyes immediately would have been premature and given away that they were damp. Beverly smiled up at him as he kissed her forehead again. “Missed you,” she sighed and squeezed her eyes dry before she opened them.

Sliding up to sit on his desk, he moved her padds of data to a neat pile. “Cardassian epidemiological histories? Hardly light reading. Is this what you’ve been working on?” he let that question float as he studied her face thoughtfully. “You’re a bit peaked.”

Smiling instantly in response only made him shake his head, even though the behavior was intended to soothe him. “You mean, how’s my stomach?”

Her feet started to go numb from the way she was sitting and Beverly shifted positions. She couldn’t pull her knees flat against her stomach the way she used to, but her hips were flexible enough to allow her to get comfortable for the time being. She didn't know how to tell him she could feel the baby. A different kind of fear overtook her. She wondered how the reality of their baby being a mobile creature instead of a vague illness would change his feelings.

Jean-Luc rested his forehead against hers. His thumb ran along her jawline, stopping to caress the corner of her mouth. “Your lips are pale,” he noticed and took that as an answer to his question. “Plomeek soup and toast tonight then?”

“It’s a good thing you enjoy bland food,” Beverly quipped. She kissed the pad of his thumb before he removed his hand from her face.

Chuckling as he left the desk, he headed for the replicator for dinner. Jean-Luc asked over his shoulder, “Luckily for both of us, Sarek only added his predilection for Vulcan cuisine to my own. Why are you studying Cardassian viruses?”

Keeping his robe around her shoulders even though the cabin was pleasantly warm, Beverly tapped her thoughts into her notes before she could forget. “Remember our rendezvous with the Blackwell?”

“You mentioned you had a project,” he recalled as he started to set the table. “You know you don’t need to wait for me every night for dinner.”

“If I eat without you I have to make it,” she replied. “If I wait for you, it appears in front of me.” Sighing as she stretched out of her chair, Beverly heard the crackling of her knees. The soreness that accompanied the motion of standing made her wish she could eat at the desk. Straightening up, she worked the kink out of her spine. Her headache made her a little light headed. Walking to the sofa, she watched him arrange the plates and cutlery on their table. She sank into the softness of the sofa and curled up with her thoughts.

Why had it been so hard to acknowledge the baby's development? She'd seen the scans. She'd dutifully reminded herself that motion would be the next symptom. Beverly wondered if she'd gotten behind, confused by the appearance of nausea and the trouble maintaining stable blood pressure. There were so many big things to worry about. She had used to be so good at reading her body and suddenly none of it made sense.

Jean-Luc touching her shoulder startled her enough that she jumped.

“Beverly?”

“Sorry,” she murmured and accepted his hand. “What were you saying?”

“I asked if you had made any headway on the protein jacket-”

“-Coat,” she corrected as he pulled out her chair at the table. Now that they lived together, they often sat at the same corner instead of at opposite sides of the table. They had a little less space but both of them enjoyed the extra intimacy. Too often physical contact had to be suspended in favor of decorum; in their quarters they needed the reprieve.

“The protein coat of the Urythnoecolial Virus,” he repeated, proving smugly how much attention he had paid to her. “You looked like you had solved a puzzle.”

“I did?” she asked and wondered what had him so convinced. Her stomach twisted, then the sensation faded. Beverly knew she had to tell him but the words were evasive. “I did,” she repeated more forcefully. “It’s the tertiary dorsal folding.”

Jean-Luc set dry toast and the steaming Vulcan soup in front of her. “Are you all right?”

“I’m not nauseated,” she promised him with a reassuring hand on his wrist. “I just feel a little odd.”

He caressed the back of her hand and continued, “Tired? Lightheaded?”

Smiling at the switch in their usual roles, she took a piece of toast and nibbled the corner of the crunchy bread. “Always,” Beverly retorted with a grimace. “Actually I--” she let it drift and shook her head. "I'm sorry."

Jean-Luc rubbed her hand with his thumb and took her confusion as a cue to change the subject. “I’ve been reading a rather useful collection of medical texts forwarded to me with a note of congratulations by Chief O’Brien, ” he related. Calmly taking another tactic, his voice took her mind off the flutter in her stomach. The pang that insisted she tell him what was happening assaulted her again.

“I put them together when Keiko was pregnant,” she remembered, touched that the chief had thought to send them to his former captain. Beverly couldn't think of a reason not to tell Jean-Luc what was happening. He would guess soon enough and it was good news. So far, all of it had been.

Alyssa had run another amniotic scan before Beverly had even left sickbay. Aside from this baby becoming the most scanned since the invention of the tricorder, everything was fine. Her DNA had a few human flaws, but was perfectly sound. There were no temporal anomalies and the developing fetus was healthy. Beverly's own cardiovascular system was performing adequately. Her endothelial cells had risen to meet the challenge she'd forced on them. Her blood pressure was still alternating between the borders of hypo- and hypertensive but that was more uncomfortable than problematic. Headaches, soreness and nausea were all acceptable. Carrying the symptoms like they were part of her uniform, she felt she deserved all of them for forcing this baby into being.

She couldn't be frustrated with Jack, like she had been when she'd been pregnant with Wesley. She couldn't fault Jean-Luc. He'd adapted better to the change than she had. She'd taken his solitary life and replaced it. When he came home at night, he had an evolving mess in his quarters and the interrupted sleep that came from dealing with her nausea. Staring morosely at her dinner, she wondered if she could convince him to let her deal with her symptoms alone.

Looking up as she remembered he was still speaking, she felt another surge of guilt.

“-Have you?” he finished a question she'd missed entirely.

Shaking her head, she met his gaze apologetically. “Have I what? I'm sorry, Jean-Luc, I wasn’t listening.” Taking a bite of toast, she waited for him to determine how to bring her back into the conversation. He blew across his soup, thinking as he stirred. She watched his expression grow quietly awed.

"Were you waiting to tell me you could feel her moving?" Jean-Luc asked. He sounded disappointed and it was all she could do to process that and what he was saying at the same time. "Beverly?"

Setting her toast down quickly, she stared at him. "I'm sorry," she repeated foolishly. "I was somewhere else. What are you talking about?"

"You're distracted," the accusation was gentle.

"I was just thinking," she excused. "Shouldn't let my mind wander so much."

He ate his dinner thoughtfully as he watched her pick at her own. "Would you like company?"

She could feel his eyes on her. If she held back any longer, he'd become concerned again and that was the last thing she wanted. "I'm all right."

"Good," he replied. Dipping the crust of his toast into his soup, he waited for her to continue. The expression on Jean-Luc's face was patient and gentle. The one to which she couldn't put up any resistance and when her eyes started to sting. She knew it was hopeless. Not telling him made it nearly unable to look at him. Beverly bit her lip and wished she could skip ahead through the next few minutes.

"I've spent my life pushing the boundaries of medicine to save lives," she began. Giving up on eating for the time being, she focused on his eyes. "I surprised, even scared myself when I managed to create this baby. If I miscarry, if anything else happens, it'll be my fault. I dragged you into this because I was too selfish to live without some part of you. I couldn't lose you. When I lost Jack, I had Wesley and I needed something of you."

Balling up her napkin, she dropped it angrily on the table. "I created all of this and then forced you into it," she snapped at herself. "I couldn't see what I was doing. I loved you. God, Jean-Luc, I was willing to lose this baby if it meant getting you back. I didn't care how long she lived if it got you back on the ship."

Her hand lay forgotten on the cold glass of the table until he lifted it and cradled it in his.

"It's all right," he promised. None of his captain's confidence was in his voice. His tone was gentle and it carried more weight coming from the heart of her lover. "I can't imagine how disconcerting it must to feel something like that."

"Jean-Luc, when I felt her move I thought something was wrong," she replied with a shudder. Pulling her hand away would have been too isolating and she clung to his warm fingers. "I didn't let myself think it was normal. I've been ignoring it. I didn't even consider-- Dammit, I knew when Wesley started moving. I can tell you the exact moment and precisely what I was doing." She hadn't realized how damp her eyes had gotten. Then the stinging in her nose flared up and reminded her how close she was to tears. "I didn't want to let myself wait for it. It might never have happened--"

"Everything is fine."

"I know that," she said, squeezing his hand. "I know that."

"Beverly, it's all right," Jean-Luc insisted. He turned in his chair to face her directly and his other hand reached for her chin. "In every way, you are doing the best you can. This pregnancy is different, and you can allow it to be so. Not only because of the circumstances surrounding conception. Your age, our relationship, having me around all the time- all of that is a great deal different than the last time." He paused and grinned. "I was with Jack when you were pregnant with Wesley."

"Much more than I was," she teased him and brought her shoulder up to nudge the hand on her shoulder up towards her cheek.

"We'd stay up late, too late, talking about you and the baby," he related, smiling. The peace on his face was as calming as his voice and both soothed her nerves. "Jack would marvel at how your belly just kept expanding. We'd laugh together and I'd have to remind him that the heart knows no distance to be insurmountable. Present company excluded, Jack was the most intimate relationship of my life."

Pushing her chair back from the table, Beverly circled the corner and climbed into his lap. The chair creaked and he had to change positions to make room for her. Jean-Luc's hands found their way around her waist and she curled up. Her head dropped to his shoulder and it took her a few minutes to find the words.

She sighed and let the weight leave her chest, "I loved him."

"As did I," he agreed. His lips touched her hair. Jean-Luc didn't complain about the fact that he could no longer eat with her in his arms. "Jack was the brother who really understood my heart and took great pleasure in reminding me how important it was to follow it. You, Jack and Wesley were my family. Having one of my own was something I never allowed myself to desire and as a result, never intended to have."

"Jean-Luc, is it just me, or is this happening really fast,"

He chuckled and she could feel the motion of his chest. "We did lose a few months."

Beverly wondered if those months were payment for the years they'd wasted. How long had he had feelings for her? Since she'd returned to the Enterprise? Before that? How much time had she spent burying what she felt? Moving Jean-Luc's hand across her stomach to rest over the pinching, Beverly sighed. It was too soon for him to feel it, but she wanted to connect it to him. Trying to let go, she tried to reconcile the fact that she could accept the baby as a person instead of a horrible responsibility. Their daughter was healthy and in a very short time, Having Jean-Luc didn't mean turning her back on the past, she only needed to learn to see it in a different light.

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