Summary : A visit to Picard's quarters leads to unexpected revelations. This short story is set before Nemesis in the TNG timeline. It occurs on a day when Deanna is away from the Enterprise.
Picard sighed and started his fourth attempt at the last paragraph. Normally he didn't have any difficulty writing, but this new admiral insisted on absolute clarity in every report. 'There must be no room for ambiguity in any sentence'.
"Pedant," Picard muttered, "Starfleet should assign him to negotiating a new treaty with the Sheliak ... paragraph 8,432, clause 42.5 .....See how he likes it!"
The chime sounded.
"Damn!" He banged the desk, then counted to five before calling out "Come."
The doors opened to reveal his favourite intruder.
"Beverly! Do come in. I'm just finishing off this report, I'll be with you in a minute."
He returned to the screen, hoping her presence would magically conjure up the right words.
I therefore recommend that Starfleet ...
She hadn't sat down. Normally she would plant herself in a corner of his sofa and claim it as her own. He liked it that way. Tonight, however, she had wandered over to the window and was staring out.
"All done," he lied, turning off the screen and standing up.
Crusher turned to face him. He knew the look - 'worried, but trying not to show it'. Should he step over and embrace her? Best not, that wasn't how captains behaved towards their CMOs, or at least not unless explicitly invited.
"I've discovered something you might like." He said cheerfully.
Over at the replicator he ordered "Picard drink number 843" and returned with a glass.
"Here try this."
As he passed the drink with one hand he deliberate moved the other close to her. Just as he'd hoped, she gripped his fingers tightly. They stood eye to eye for a moment before she let go and resumed her pretence of calm.
"What is this?" She asked as she sat down.
"Its called Zychzbr .... Zuchzbr... let's just say it's a Bajoran fruit juice."
"Number 843?" She teased.
"It's easier to pronounce." He admitted, sitting himself at the other end of the sofa.
She tried to smile back but failed, then hid her face while pretending to take several long sips.
"It tastes good." She replied, emerging at last. "How did you come to find it."
"Do you really want to know?" he asked gently. "Or would you rather tell me what's troubling you?"
For five seconds she didn't respond, then finally lowered the glass to her lap, she dived in.
"I had to remove Jose Armarco's right eye."
Picard gulped. "I didn't realise it was that bad."
"Neither did I to start with. He walked into a thorn bush two days before the end of his shore leave. Though his companions treated the puncture wound correctly they had no way of knowing the thorn carried a dangerous bacteria. By the time the Enterprise picked him up, the infection had already begun to work its way up his optic nerve." Beverly took a deep breath. "I couldn't delay, I had to remove it immediately. His brain would have been infected within the hour."
Her hands had started to shake; she put the drink aside to avoid spillage.
"I'm sure Jose understands your decision."
She looked away and then back again.
"He doesn't know yet. ... He was very tired and in pain when he arrived so I gave him a sedative straight away. That was before I discovered how bad it was."
"I see." Picard studied her face, he was still puzzled by her anxiety. "Beverly ... this isn't the first time you've had to amputate without being able to tell the patient. What is it about this case that bothers you?"
She shook herself and stood up.
"It's eyes! I hate having to remove an eye." She began to pace up and down. "There's something about them, they're more ... more part of a person's essence than just part of their body."
"Windows on the soul." Picard quoted.
She stopped and covered her own face, not bearing to remember what she'd done.
"There's something else, isn't there?" He probed.
Beverly lowered her hands. How well he knows me!
Picard waited patiently till she felt ready to speak.
"Removing someone's eye was the first operation I did without another doctor to assist me. I was 23... It went perfectly, I did an excellent job." She sat down again. "I was so proud of my work I was sure the patient would be pleased. ... He wasn't - of course - all that mattered to him was that once he had had two eyes and now he had one. ... My thoughtlessness made it even worse for him."
Picard found himself wondering if this painful lesson had given rise to the exceptional bed-side manner she now possessed.
"You're not going to make that mistake again." He spoke with absolute certainty.
"Oh no? What makes you so sure?"
"Because I've seen you give far worse news to a patient, many times."
She let out a brief snort. "Ridiculous, isn't it. I'd rather tell him he's going to die than tell him I've removed his eye." She took a gulp from the glass. " ... He's a shuttle pilot, remember? All he's ever wanted to do is fly.... How many one-eyed pilots do you have on board?"
"None, but we do have one who's blind."
"That's different, Geordie was born blind. He's able to 'see' very well through his artificial replacements. With Jose it'll be much harder. Even if we can fit him with an artificial eye it may take him years to learn how to interpret what it's telling him and to merge that with the input from the real eye. If he's very lucky he might be able to re-start pilot training in two or three years time, but I wouldn't bet on it."
They both fell silent.
Picard was never one to spout platitudes, besides which he suspected there was something more she hadn't told him. She'd made a sound medical decision, executed it perfectly and she'd identified what it would mean to Jose. Why the anxiety?
The answer suddenly hit him.
"Is this ... only the second time you've removed an eye?"
A tight little smile acknowledged his guess.
"Yes," she whispered, "... not that the need arises that often. I've only been faced with five other cases. Every time I found an excuse not to be the one. I'd find myself another patient who needed my attention more urgently. ... Cowardly I know ... and not fair on my colleagues."
"Don't be so hard on yourself. You do more than your share on everything else."
"Guilty conscious." She half laughed.
They fell silent again.
"Beverly ..." he treaded carefully, " .. would you like me to be there when you tell Jose? After all I've been through something similar to him."
"Would you?" His suggestion obviously pleased her. "But you don't intimidate him do you?"
"Hardly! He's been my personal pilot on several occasions. Once, in my yacht, he executed a brilliantly unorthodox manoeuvre and then had the audacity to teach ..."
He stopped mid sentence.
"Jean-Luc? What's wrong?"
"Nothing, just an idea. Perfect eyesight isn't essential for a flying instructor and Jose would make a good teacher. I won't go promising him anything straight away but I think we may have a position for him aboard the Enterprise. I'd like to increase the percentage of the crew who could act as pilots if necessary."
Beverly was tempted to kiss him, but then CMOs didn't kiss their captains; not unless explicitly invited to do so.
"I'll wake him in a couple of hours, will you be free then?"
"I'll make sure I am."
She smiled and downed the remainder of her drink.
"You know, you've never told me what it was like to discover your heart had been replaced."
Picard swallowed, it wasn't his favourite topic of conversation.
"I didn't need telling, I knew it had gone as soon as I regain consciousness."
"Who was your doctor?"
"Yes. I was very lucky that his ship was visiting the outpost that day. Implanting an artificial heart required the skills of a specialist surgeon back then. ... He let me know it too. 'Young man'," Picard aped Goodwin's pompous tone, " 'you were extremely foolish to get involved in a bar fight. Fortunately I have managed to replace your damaged heart with an artificial organ'. He then proceeded to tell me all about the operation in the kind of detail that I really didn't want to know. ... He also insisted that my new heart was far superior to my real one. I was tempted to ask him why he didn't have his own replaced."
She laughed. "He sounds as tactless as I was."
"You weren't even in his league," he joked.
Beverly sat back and started comparing Jean-Luc's experience with Jose's current position.
"It must have been traumatic at the time, but at least losing your heart didn't change your future life significantly. And Goodwin was right, you know, your artificial heart is superior in many ways."
Picard got up quickly and pretended he need a drink.
Beverly watched him as he went first to the replicator and then to the window. His back was firmly turned towards her. It was only an almost imperceptible shudder in his breathing that alerted her to his distress.
"Jean-Luc?" She asked gently. "What's wrong?"
She hurriedly got up and moved over to him.
"I hurt you didn't I? Please, I need to know what I did?" Her voice was shaking now.
He was tempted to shout at her, but that would be cruel given her difficulty with Jose. It also risked jeopardising their friendship. He turned towards her, keeping his face icily calm.
"Do you really think it's nothing to lose your heart? Do you think I don't notice the difference? The way my real heart would quicken in anticipation of joy? This cold thing in my chest doesn't feel, it just responds mechanically to physical demands." He closed his eyes and savoured a memory. "I can still remember how its rising tempo would enhance or even lead my emotions." He paused, then opened his eyes again. "Data spotted my un-human response not long after he joined the ship. He'd noticed my physical reaction to tense situations wasn't the same as the other humans on the bridge. More like a Vulcan was how he described it. ... No don't doubt some will tell you that's good for a Captain, but I can tell you it's not good for a man."
"Jean-Luc." She moved even closer and placed her hands on his upper arms. "Please forgive me, I had no idea. And that isn't because I didn't stop to think, it's because your situation is not what the other artificial heart patients have told me. If your heart never reacts to emotional situations, then there must be something wrong with the implant. Somehow messages from your brain are not getting through. Either that or they're being interpreted incorrectly." His face relaxed at her explanation. "It might be possible to correct it. No promises though."
Excited by her words, Picard allowed himself to place his hands on her waist.
The pair of them smiled at one another.
"All those years." He sighed, thinking of what he had missed.
Beverly suddenly threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly. They stood wrapped in each others arms, faces buried into necks.
"On second thoughts, perhaps I am guilty of not paying attention."
"How do you mean?" he asked, lifting his head to look at her.
"I had noticed that you were somewhat 'stoical' in your responses, but I'd always assumed that behaviour was self imposed."
Picard thought for a moment. "Maybe it is? Goodwin advised me to try and avoid emotional stress for the first 6 months, so as to give my body time to get used to its new heart. Maybe, during that period, I learnt 'too well' how to suppress any physical emotional response?"
"That is possible. In which case you have some 'un-learning' to do."
Picard let out a mock groan.
"What's the matter?"
"I was just imagining Deanna's reaction when she hears about all this. 'And how many times, Captain, have I told you that you ought to express your emotions'."
Beverly laughed at his excellent imitation.
"Don't worry, I'll protect you."
"Indeed Doctor? Might I ask how?"
"Quite simply - I won't tell her."
He beamed back.
Just then the intercom rudely interrupted their conversation
"Bridge to Captain Picard, you asked to be told when we reached Garoon."
He let out a disappointed sigh. "I have to attend to my duties."
"And I to mine."
She patted him on the chest and stepped back.
They exited his quarters together and made their way to the turbo lift.
At Beverly's deck the lift halted.
"Jose, 20:00 hours, Sickbay?" She reminded him.
"I'll be there."
"And remember to schedule some time in your diary for 're-education' sessions."
"I'm looking forward to them."
As the doors shut she called out, "And tell your heart it's allowed to share in that anticipation."
Alone in the turbo-lift, Picard smiled to himself. Could he really teach his heart to react that way? Could he unlearn his stoicism after all these years? And how had he managed to become so stoical in the first place? He hadn't always been that way.
He halted the lift and thought back. At Starfleet Academy a Vulcan lecturer had recommended aversion therapy for human students who were at the mercy of their emotions. 'If you find yourself tempted to perform inappropriate behaviour then imagine that giving in will cause you severe discomfort'. Picard had used this technique occasionally to force himself to complete tedious essays. He'd imagine receiving some public humiliation for every hour he drew the task out. What was the unwelcome consequence had he conjured up if he taxed his heart with emotions?
Shut down! That was it! Emotions would cause his artificial heart to isolate itself from his body and stop pumping blood. It had been an effective incentive and one that was all to easy to believe following the gory details Goodwin had inflicted upon him. Could he now break this mental association? For a second he was tempted to try immediately.
"Not possible you have work to do."
He opened his mouth to say 'continue' then stopped.
Was the work really that important? Or was this just another of his tactics for avoiding emotions? Was he, in fact, afraid to let his heart feel? If that was so, he could only be healed if he forced himself to take that first step.
"Go for it, you coward!"
Closing his eyes he placed a hand over his heart and concentrated on the thought of Beverly helping with his first un-learning lesson. His head was excited at the prospect but his heart remained indifferent.
"Let your heart hear the message. It wants to receive it." Saying this was easy, doing it was another matter.
His head was now experiencing intense anxiety.
"Just let it hear for a micro-second then, an instant. It won't shutdown on you in that time. Relax... relax .. just let it feel!"