Picard felt guilty, but wasn't sure why. Being summoned to an admiral's office sometimes had this effect. Is it memories of being called to the Commandant's Office at Starfleet Academy? He blushed as he remembered what Cadet Picard had done to deserve those interviews.
I was an immature youth then, I'm older and wiser now.
The clock ticked on, 15 minutes had passed since his arrival. Was this waiting a punishment or was Nechayev genuinely busy?
He started to fidget irritably. The Enterprise was due to leave space dock in 10 hours time and commence her next mission; there where things he needed to do! All this was so, but there was also another reason why he'd rather not be down on the surface. Down here it was harder to forget that Beverly Crusher existed. Nine days before he'd broken the unspoken rule of their relationship - never speak of the love they felt for one another. Unable to control himself, he'd blurted out his feelings on finding her alive and unharmed. Since then she'd hardly spoken to him.
Fool! Fool! He reprimanded himself.
"Captain?" The assistant's voice brought him out of his reverie. "The admiral will see you now."
He suppressed the urge to say "At last!" and politely thanked the young man.
When he entered Nechayev was talking to someone via her comm screen, she signalled to him to sit and continued her conversation. It wasn't long before Picard began to drum his fingers impatiently. If she noticed, he didn't care. I've had enough! He was on the point of rising to leave when the door opened. Nechayev promptly ended her call as a breathless Beverly Crusher hurried in.
"I'm sorry Admiral. I was treating a patient, I came as soon as I could."
"It's the Captain you should apologise to; I kept him waiting until I heard you'd entered the building.
Beverly turned to see which captain she was referring to.
"Jean-Luc!" Her instinctive delight quickly turned to apprehension.
"Doctor!", Nechayev snapped, "please sit down, I haven't got the time for pleasantries."
Crusher obeyed as the admiral sat back and looked at them like a predator considering its prey.
"Captain, Doctor, you are both experienced senior officers and as such it is incumbent upon you to behave as such. When it comes to chosing your career options Starfleet expects you to consider carefully and then honour your decisions. What we do not expect is behaviour more characteristic of teenagers."
Picard was about to protest when he noticed Beverly nervously rubbing her hand.
"Dr Crusher," Nechayev continued,"just six months ago you agreed to take up a post at Starfleet Medical, yet now I have a request from you asking to return to the Enterprise. What's going to happen in six months time? Are you going to change your mind yet again?"
"I'm sorry .." Beverly stammered, but before she could continue the admiral turned on Picard.
"And you captain, if I refuse the Doctor's request will you be asking for a desk-job at HQ?"
"Admiral" Crusher jumped in, "I think the Captain and I need to talk privately before we continue this...'discussion'."
Nechayev observed Picard's shocked state. "Obviously. I'll give you five minutes. You can use this room."
As soon as the door closed behind her Picard spoke.
"Beverly, would you care to tell me what the hell's going on!"
She turned away, took a few breaths, then looked him in the eye.
"Yesterday I put in a request to return to the Enterprise."
"I see, and were you planning to tell me why you've changed your mind? I thought you enjoyed your new job?"
"I do, but I have to leave with the Enterprise."
"You haven't answered my question." He was through with guessing games, they must say what they felt. "Why do you want to return?
She smiled nervously, "So I can be with you."
Picard raised his hands and took hold of her finger tips.
"You saw me every day for years, yet still decided to leave. Why should it be any different this time?"
"Because I want to see you every night as well."
Her replied thrilled him, though only the strength of his grip betrayed his reaction.
Should I accept?
Cautious as ever, he considered the consequences. What if Nechayev refused her request? What then? Could he bring himself to leave the Enterprise? Would any life with her be adventure enough?
"Beverly, I think I should ..." his reply was cut short by the door opening.
Picard immediately broke contact and stood to attention. Crusher followed suit, standing next to him as if on a parade.
"Well?" Nechayev asked sternly. "Have you made up your minds?"
The captain stepped forward. "Admiral, I'd like you to ignore Dr Crusher's application..."
Beside him Beverly let out a gasp of despair.
" ... and instead please accept my request that she be reinstated as the Enterprise CMO."
The Admiral studied their faces coolly. Beverly's mouth quivered as she struggled to hide her joy. She was damned if she was giving this tyrant reason to call her unprofessional!
"And if I refuse? What then?"
"You can expect my resignation within the day." His voice was perfectly calm.
Nechayev looked him in the eye - was he bluffing? Did he really love this woman more than his ship? And if he did, could he be trusted to act with the necessary detachment?
She took her time, it was an important decision, the safety of the flagship was at stake.
"Request granted, Captain."
Their chests heaved as both breathed again.
The decision having been taken, Nechayev was ready to move on. "Captain, make sure the Enterprise is ready to leave on time. Dismissed."
Hidden from her view, Picard gripped Beverly's hand passionately. "Thank you, Admiral," they replied in unison, then hurriedly made for the door. He was almost out when Nechayev called him back.
"Jean-Luc?" she spoke more softly this time. "Do something for me, will you? Put in a request to be treated as a 'couple' and posted together. I wouldn't want anyone to think I was growing sentimental in my old age."
He bowed respectfully. "Immediately Admiral and I promise the thought never entered my head." A wicked grin flashed across his face for an instant and was gone.
Alynna sighed as the door closed. A pity. I'll miss that flirtatious streak to our relationship. And so - I think - will he.