From!!!!!!not-for-mail Thu Oct 24 07:41:42 1996 Path:!!!!!!not-for-mail From: (Jeanita) Newsgroups: alt.startrek.creative,alt.startrek.creative.erotica Subject: NEW: The Best Of All Possible Worlds 1/4 (NC17) Date: 24 Oct 1996 07:50:33 -0400 Organization: Capital PC User Group, Inc., Rockville, Maryland, USA Lines: 552 Message-ID: <54nl69$> NNTP-Posting-Host: Xref: alt.startrek.creative:46715 alt.startrek.creative.erotica:4479 First the disclaimers. Paramount owns these characters and this universe. I got the idea from a story by Diane Duane, but I'm not making any money off it. This story contains non-consensual sex, torture, and one scene of violent torture, but most of the sex is not at all graphic. You've been warned. If you're under 18, scram. P/P, P/T, P/C, T/C Q/AUP. Keep headers intact, please. Next the thanks. Ruth Gifford got me started. We took the premise of an evil, hardhearted ISS Picard and asked ourselves, 'What would make him turn out that way?' Thinking, writing (and reading) about his formative years fleshed out his idiosyncracies so that he became a good deal more interesting to me than your standard cardboard bad guy. Thanks, hon. Now the Intro. If you've read Dark Mirror by Diane Duane, this Picard needs no introduction. If you aren't familiar with her novel--and I strongly recommend it to you--it takes place in the mirror universe first introduced to us in TOS (Remember Spock in blue silk?). For convenience' sake, I refer to USS Picard as Jean- Luc and ISS Picard as Picard. Some things referred to, like Wesley almost killing Jean-Luc, are from incidents that occurred in Dark Mirror, but mostly I've tried not to encroach on her space. The A/U Picard is an all around rotten type of guy who tried take our Enterprise and got badly burned in the process. The A/U Deanna is a much more powerful telepath than our lovely Tits Troi and about a hundred times meaner. Their universe is a much harsher place and these are not nice people. Jean-Luc is a do-gooder who can't leave well enough alone, and Q... well, he's just Q, what can I say? And thus begins the tale... I see your true colors shining through. Your true colors, and that's why I love you. So don't be afraid to let them show. Your true colors are beautiful like a rainbow. Your True Colors-- Cyndi Lauper (who, IMO, is one of the Goddess' gifts to humankind) The Best of all Possible Worlds Jeanita Danzik Picard stared down the table at Beverly, then looked to his right at Deanna, both of them quietly eating dinner. 'My little family,' he thought with grim amusement. In the months since he'd taken Deanna as his second woman he'd had to adjust to the overcrowded feeling in his quarters now that three people lived in them. It annoyed him at first, but he'd waited out the irritation, more than willing to put up with a little inconvenience for the lesson it taught Deanna. After the incident with his double from the alternate universe he knew he had to do something about her. She could still be useful to him, but unless she was put in her place she would continue to be a thorn in his side. That was when fortune smiled on him. He remembered something Deanna bragged about once, something about outmaneuvering her own mother and emerging triumphant. A quick leave of absence to Betazed had given him all he needed to force Deanna to yield to him. Mrs. Troi, a much more powerful telepath than Deanna ever had a hope of becoming, had forced open the telepathic channels in Picard's brain and taught him how to use his new abilities. It had been a gruesome experience--he'd been in a hurry, and the urgency had taken it's toll. He'd fainted from the pain more than once, coming to with blood pouring from his eyes and nose--but it had been worth it. Immediately upon returning to the Enterprise he called Deanna to his office, raped her mentally, then physically, then demanded that she thank him. "After all, I could have done this to you on the bridge," he pointed out. He smiled down into her tear-stained face. "Think about that." In truth he would not have physically raped her in front of anyone--he was too fastidious. But that he would have publically stripped her of her power--Deanna would know that was all too likely. He knew she didn't have to think about the absolute loss of face such an event would have entailed. Her standing would have plummeted from ship's diva to non-person, a being lower than the lowest whore. Whores, at least, were considered human. She wouldn't even have been entitled to that consideration, and they both knew it. When she'd stammered out her "Thank you, Captain," it had been one of the sweetest moments in recent memory, more than making up for his humiliation with the alternate universe and his need to hurriedly save face. Her humiliated compliance made him aroused all over again, but he decided to save that for later. Ignoring her protests, then her pleas, he sent her back to the bridge, makeup smeared and hair disheveled. Then he called one of his guards and gave her orders to have the bed in his quarters enlarged immediately. He'd allowed Deanna to feel his presence in her mind all day, and that evening he issued a mental summons. When she showed up at his door he'd been pleased to see the expression of alarm on Beverly's face. He would have sensed her sudden fear even if he hadn't had telepathic enhancement, but now he could feel everything: the sudden sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, the weak limbs, the nameless dread that her life was suddenly going to change again though she didn't know how or why. "Deanna," he ignored Beverly for the moment. "Take off your clothes, go get in bed and wait for me until I come to you." Her unhappiness plainly written on her features, Deanna turned away to undress, but Picard stopped her. "Do it where we can see you, Counselor." She'd stripped in front of him and Beverly while he fed on her rage and humiliation. From Beverly he received a sense of profound relief: this was a game between Jean-Luc and the Counselor in which Jean-Luc had clearly emerged the winner. It had nothing to do with her. Indeed, she hadn't even asked him about it until the next morning after Deanna left. She'd watched him put Deanna through her paces in total silence, and the only emotions Jean-Luc picked up from her were of smug vengefulness and hatred. There was the fact of Deanna's relishment as she tortured Wesley to death. And apparently Deanna had once bragged within Beverly's earshot that she would soon replace her as the Captain's woman. "For now," Picard answered her inquiry, "she's my second woman." He left it at that except to add that he wanted to see her and Deanna together that evening. Beverly said nothing, but he could feel her stunned amazement and curiosity. She'd never been with another woman, that much Picard knew. Since that time they'd both gotten rather skilled at keeping him entertained. Beverly's initial attempts at making love to a female had been rather strained and clumsy, but practice had made for a much improved performance. In fact, just thinking about it made Jean-Luc want to experience the pleasure of it yet again. "Get up," he told them, and was pleased to see them put their forks down and rise to their feet without a moment's hesitation. "Go into the bedroom and wait for me." They turned and walked away while Picard prolonged his anticipation by finishing his meal at a leisurely pace. He would allow them to finish eating later, if he felt like it. He might even eat in front of them, just to give them another opportunity to beg him for a basic right. When he finally got to the bedroom they were standing by the side of the bed, naked, their toys and implements laid out behind them. He did not allow his amusement to touch his face. They were more compliant and fearful when they didn't know what he was thinking. "Deanna, lie down. Beverly, fuck her." Deanna lay down and opened her legs wide as Beverly buckled on the strap-on phallus. He could feel Beverly's odd combination of resignation and excitement, and Deanna's shame. Deanna was coming to feel more lost and apathetic as the weeks passed, and she was steadily giving over any sense of control she'd once had. All for the good, Picard thought. She still hated him, but she was unwilling to chance displeasing him. She followed his instructions, taking it from Beverly as she lay on her back, then getting up on her hands and knees, pushing back against Beverly's thrusts and crying out as her body became aroused. Beverly knew what to do next. She reached around and began to play with Deanna's nipples, alternating from one to the other as she braced herself with the unoccupied hand. Deanna's cries grew louder. She was performing for him, Picard knew, even though the sensations she experienced were genuine. He never fucked Deanna, delegating that chore to Beverly, though occasionally he let her fellate him. Mostly though, he made her fellate the artificial phallus Beverly wore for the simple reason that it humiliated her. There was always a point during these exercises where she groaned and her body went limp. It was not, Picard knew, an expression of passion, but one of despair; her mind and her emotions yielding to the fact of her body's excitement. She was at her most vulnerable at that point, and Picard always had some small task for her: go down on Beverly, insert the anal plug inside yourself and ask Beverly to fuck you with it, suck Beverly's toes, play with yourself until you come. He could feel her hopelessness, and he liked to let her know he knew how she was feeling, and that he derived enjoyment from her pain. He listened in on her thoughts, profoundly gratified that he had enough control that she had no idea he could hear her. They went round and round the same despairing circle, a story that would not change. 'I'm being raped,' Deanna would tell herself. She'd said the same thing every night for the past two months, and the idea always filled her with dull amazement. That this should happen to her. To *her*. Who would have ever imagined she could be trapped like this? She had nowhere to turn, there was no one to help her and there was no escape unless Picard decided to set her free. She knew better than to think such a thing was possible. He was selective about his possessions; only the finest and the best for Captain Picard, and she was far too great a prize to be discarded easily. 'Such a surprising thing,' she examined the thought with something touching wonder, 'to define my life in terms of my usefulness to someone else.' She'd instantly dismissed the idea of seeking Riker's help. It would be suicide for both of them. It was equally impossible to turn to Headquarters for aid. That, too, was the road to oblivion, albeit a longer, slower one. Deanna had seen it happen before. She would be transferred to a new assignment. En route, there would be an 'accident' that unfortunately resulted in her death. And it was ridiculous to even think of running. An old friend of hers had run once, Tam Elbrun. He'd been hunted down and brought back. She could have told anyone who listened that Tam was a waste of time, but in it's wisdom, Starfleet Intelligence 'recruited' the most powerful telepaths it could find, regardless of suitability. He'd been used as a demonstration project in mind control, and over the weeks they'd all watched in horror as he'd been converted into a cheerful, obedient drone. Tam had learned the hard way that Intelligence was cruelest to its own, and Deanna had no wish to find out what her fate would be if they discovered that she'd been suborned by Captain Picard. All this wandered through her mind as she knelt on the bed in front of Beverly. She now knew just how foolish she'd been to want to replace Beverly as the Captain's woman. She'd thought Picard might soften in private, but if anything he was colder and more controlling than he ever was publicly. She'd miscalculated badly, and this was the result. But she was still alive, and if she could keep Intelligence from finding out about her changed status, she was safe for the time being. She would have given anything to find out how he'd suddenly gotten these abilities. She knew that when humanoids acquired telepathy there were all sorts of side effects, but even in this Picard, naturally, had an ace in the hole--his First Captain's Woman was a doctor. ***** Beverly had not expected to feel much grief over the death of her son. She'd neglected him shamefully almost all his life, and when he'd come aboard to the Enterprise, they hadn't really gotten along. When he'd pestered her to use her influence with the Captain to get him a bridge position, she'd done so even though she knew that way lay trouble. Even though he was only being nice because he wanted something from her, she'd been so grateful to hear him speaking civilly that she hadn't wanted to irritate him by suggesting he take a post anywhere else. He'd discovered her relationship to Picard when he was ten years old, and he hated her for it. He'd called her 'whore' to her face. She'd been shocked, and when she couldn't find a way to reach past his rage their relationship completely deteriorated. "Don't say that to me!" She was sure he'd understand if only she could get him to listen to her, but she couldn't talk to him if she knew he despised her. "Tell me why not?" He'd demanded of her, his baby features twisted with pain and hatred. She'd looked from him to her Nana and saw the same accusation on her grandmother's face. Watching them all, Picard had chuckled, and Beverly felt herself go numb with shame. What could she say when she was so obviously in her keeper's thrall that she wasn't allowed to visit her home planet by herself? Don't worry honey, Mommy is really more of a concubine than a whore? Yes, I'm a whore, but at least I have a medical degree? She watched a betrayed expression cross her son's face, belatedly realizing he'd wanted a vehement denial from her. When none was forthcoming his expression changed again, from betrayal to disdain. From then on he took every opportunity to let her know how contemptible he found her. She'd tried to explain it to him once; that his life, Nana's life, and possibly even the very existence of New Hebrides, was hostage to her obedience, but he'd simply stared at her, his eyes gone hard and cold. 'Like Picard's,' she realized. That's when she'd stopped trying. She thought she'd stopped caring, but obviously that was not the case. She could feel Picard watching her in the weeks following Wesley's death, but if he was expecting a stormy reaction from her, he would be disappointed. She mostly felt a weary relief that a painful part of her life had come to closure--no husband, no son, nothing to remind her of those few happy years when the future had looked bright to her. It was so good to have the uncertainty at an end that she was almost pleased about the whole thing. Yet she'd taken to sitting in her office with the door closed and the lights off for long periods of time. When she didn't notice what she was doing, she found her scratchpad covered with Wesley's name, and she often found herself hovering near the drawer where she'd hidden pictures of her son out of Picard's reach. (He had an annoying tendency to take her favorite possessions away from her when the mood struck him.) She was firmly entrenched in this state of anesthetization when Picard brought Deanna to live with them. While the ship was being retrofitted after the alternate universe debacle, he'd vanished briefly then returned with a newfound ability to neutralize the Betazoid's abilities. She wondered at first whether this was some twisted means of shifting blame for Wesley's death from himself to Deanna, but quickly decided that wasn't the case. Beverly was not at all pleased with this new arrangement, but the effect on Deanna was much more devastating. The Betazoid woman folded in on herself more every day. It amused Beverly to watch Deanna struggle to maintain the fiction that it she'd become Picard's second mistress by choice, but when the few friends the Counselor had cultivated began to keep careful distance from her, Beverly's amusement took on a sour edge. Long ago, when Jean-Luc claimed her, she'd also been abandoned by her friends. Now she had one friend, Nurse Ogawa. She was by no means Beverly's social equal, but she meant more to her than anyone in the galaxy. Indeed, the one time Beverly flagrantly defied Jean-Luc was when he'd transferred the nurse away from her in another one of his elaborate games of control. Beverly hadn't fought, begged or pleaded; she'd simply cried. He ordered her to stop. She didn't. She cried for several days straight, even when he'd briefly ordered her to the brig. He came to visit her with the grim warning that her next stop was the punishment booth yet she still couldn't make herself stop, and at that point she felt she had nothing to lose. She simply lay on the floor of her cell, crying until sleep took her, then waking up to cry some more. Finally Picard gave in, went after the shuttle carrying Ogawa, brought her back, and gave her back to Beverly. He'd watched with bemusement as the two women clung to one another. "You realize you've given me another hostage," he told her later that night. She'd simply shrugged. "I don't care." She knew she'd handed him a weapon, and she expected him to treat Ogawa like he did her other possessions, but to her surprise he'd never threatened to take her away again. Now she watched impassively as Deanna groped for a way to handle her sudden isolation. There was no love lost between the two women. When they were alone together in Picard's quarters they never spoke to one another. To the extent she cared at all, Beverly enjoyed Deanna's suffering. Late one night, as the three lay spooned against each other, after Picard's breathing had evened out in sleep, she felt the whisper of Deanna's thoughts against her mind, a timid //Doctor?// It held nothing of the smug, tyrannical glee that had been described to her on more than one occasion. Beverly sat up and screamed, waking Picard. "She was in my head," she explained into his annoyance. Picard's eyes fell on Deanna and she saw them narrow in concentration. The Betazoid actually shrank away from him, but there was no place to which she could escape. Beverly could actually feel the pressure of his mind bearing down on Deanna. It made her faintly nauseous. It had a much stronger effect on Deanna who began to retch, curling around herself in pain as she clutched at her temples. Eventually she convulsed and blacked out. Picard promptly went back to sleep, but Beverly slipped out of bed and got her tricorder. There were indications of extreme stress and anxiety, but Beverly could find no direct cause. 'Serves you right,' she thought. She went back to bed. The following morning Deanna came out of the bathroom with the terrified, flinching expression of someone who'd spent the night in the punishment booth. When she sat down to breakfast, Picard took one look at her and began to lecture. "Counselor, I know you're having personal problems but I do not intend to allow that to interfere with the efficient running of my ship. Now you will go back into the bathroom, you will rid yourself of this totally unacceptable demeanor and you will present yourself to me as I'm accustomed to seeing you. You have two minutes." Deanna left the table and when she came back she was holding herself erect again, looking much as she had before he'd drained the venom from her fangs. The act was almost convincing until you saw her eyes. Picard didn't look at her eyes. "That's better, Deanna." He went back to his soft-boiled egg, pausing long enough to observe that Beverly had recently suffered trauma in her life also. "She just lost a son, but you don't see her moping, do you?" "No, Sir." Deanna's voice was clear and firm, and despite herself, Beverly felt an unwelcome empathy. Picard always demanded that she look, if not happy, at least unperturbed. Except for the one time with Ogawa, she'd long since learned to keep her true feelings to herself. ***** Picard didn't like being a telepath. It was an amazingly useful talent, but it was very distracting, and besides, it gave him headaches. Lwaxana Troi had told him to expect this as his brain learned to absorb information it wasn't equipped to handle, but she hadn't told him the pain would have him frothing and vomiting if he didn't take care of it right away. At first he would disappear into his ready room, call Beverly and wait in agony until she appeared with a hypo, but now he'd taken to keeping a hypo in his desk drawer so he wouldn't have to wait. He didn't think he would become addicted to painkillers, but the need for them made him very uneasy. In spite of the inconvenience, however, he was pleased with the added dimension of power it gave him. He did to Troi what she'd done to others, rifling through her brain, examining any sundry thought that caught his interest while she froze, than waited, compliant and resigned, until he was done with her. The first thing he'd done was to absorb all the information she had on handling this ability, gathering a lifetime's experience in a few short raids for information. Then, just because she couldn't stop him, he'd examined her sexual fantasies, her fears and fetishes, her likes and dislikes, and almost as an afterthought, the instructions from Headquarters regarding him. There was nothing out of the ordinary, but as he suspected, she received regular communiques on a private channel whose existence had been kept secret from him until now. He accompanied her to her quarters where she opened her private files without even being asked, then stood aside as he read them. "So tell me," he asked in conversational tones. "what's the access code for your personal logs?" Her mental resistance was the excuse he'd been waiting for, and he pounced, giving her the telepathic equivalent of a brutal beating. Rummaging through her mind like a leisurely thief in a jewelry shop, he'd absorbed her belief that her power made her an adult in a ship full of telepathic infants. The abilities Picard had acquired from Lwaxana, however, made him the equivalent of a trained killer. Deanna, long unused to defending herself against other telepaths, hadn't stood a chance. It felt wonderful to be able to exert power in this whole new arena. Deanna didn't know he spent that afternoon in a drug-induced stupor when the pain of his exertions took it's toll. All she knew was that, psychically, she had been beaten to a pulp and would take a long time to heal. Meanwhile, she was too weak and frightened to prevent him from going into her mind and torturing her anytime he wanted. Eventually, his brain and body acclimated to his new abilities and the headaches faded in severity. Deanna became much more agreeable in her servility than she'd ever been in her independence, and Picard found himself somewhat grateful to the unfortunately recently-deceased Lwaxana. This intrusive ability didn't tell him much that he hadn't already known somehow, but it filled in details he would have otherwise missed--Riker's fear and unease, for example, when he'd discovered that access to Deanna's body was something he and Picard shared in common. Every so often Picard sent Deanna to Riker's quarters and eavesdropped on them. It was useful to him that she maintain a pretext of independent behavior because he didn't want Intelligence investigating her changed allegiance too closely. So she duly pretended she was in Riker's room of her own volition, while Riker's thoughts scurried into corners and down blind alleys, trying to understand exactly what was happening. Picard knew Riker to be extremely cunning, but that quality did him no good when he was being fed the wrong clues. Picard kept him even more off balance by constantly rotating new security staff through his cadre of personal guards. Riker didn't understand what it meant that Deanna lived with Picard but continued to visit him. He thought Intelligence had given her some increased authority, and he frantically put out feelers to find the source of her new-found powers. He turned surly towards her, demanding favors she refused easily enough since she was in no position to grant them. Riker's fear was amusing, and Picard understood why feeding off it had so entertained Deanna. He was nothing if not disciplined, however, and he resisted the urge to go rifling through his crew's thoughts. That was still Deanna's job, though he noted with amusement that she didn't perform it with nearly the relish she'd evinced formerly. He worked with her a few times, just to get the feel of what she did. He felt her automatic gratification at skimming through the undefended minds of non- telepaths, as well as her painful awareness that he was doing the same thing to her. He noted with satisfaction that she and Beverly both thought of him not so much as a person anymore, but as an omnipowerful force that inspired fear, obedience and utter helplessness. He was not Picard to them as much as he was 'he,' the precipitor of inchoate terror, and the supreme and absolute dominion in their lives. The very idea of him frightened them. This was a perfectly acceptable state of affairs, and Picard could not help but look forward to a great many contented years. He had complete control of every aspect of his beloved Enterprise, he had possession of two very useful women, and he had an advantage no one knew about. He was, therefore, understandably put out when his doppelganger from the other universe showed up in his quarters one night with a tall, dark-haired stranger. "So you're back?" He took one dangerous step, then another, towards his absurdly clothed double. The tall man stepped in front of his alternate, obviously intent on protecting him, and Picard stopped. "Sensible of you to bring a bodyguard. Otherwise you'd be wearing my knife for decoration this very second." The double put a hand on the tall man's arm and gently moved him aside. "I've come to speak with you." With a gesture he indicated his associate. "Q has graciously assented to bring me here as often as I should wish." "Against my better judgement," the taller man scowled. "True enough," his double spoke with an amused smile, "but he has given me this opportunity and I intend to make the most of it. I should like a few moments of your time." "I've disabled it." The taller man, Q, apparently was also a mindreader, because Picard had been wondering about his intruder alert system. Picard sent his new telepathic senses out to read his double, but Q flicked a lazy hand and he felt his thoughts hit a barrier and bounce off. "I know all the Jean-Luc Picards there are," the tall man drawled, "and if you think I'm going to let the one I like least hurt the one I like best, you're in for a very unpleasant surprise." He smirked at Picard, who seethed inwardly but held his peace. Stymied, Picard gestured to the sofa, then, deliberately turning his back on them, got three brandies out of the replicator and offered two of them to his guests. The man Q made another small gesture with his hand, and Picard, tasting his brandy, could have sworn it mellowed in his mouth, the aromatic fumes somehow refining themselves as he absorbed them. It tasted sublime. "That's a little better," Q sniffed. "Replicated brandy!" He muttered disgustedly, and rolled his eyes. Picard's double shot the man a chiding glance and Picard wondered what exactly was going on here. "Well," he said after they'd all had a small sip, "what is it you wished to speak to me about?" His double took a deep breath and jumped in without preamble. "Your Empire is on the verge of self-destruction." It was treason to agree with such a statement. Picard kept silent. "I would like to help prevent that, if I can," his double went on. "And I would imagine that through simple self-interest you feel the same way." He paused, then said hesitantly, "It would mean a somewhat less coercive way of interacting with people." Picard suppressed a smile. Excellent. This mewling do-gooder thought he could help the Empire. "I should be very much interested in your suggestions," he answered softly. "What did you have in mind?" The man Q gave a long exasperated sigh. "Jean-Luc is being much too polite about this. Your universe disgusts me. I think you should be wiped out and Jean-Luc thinks you should be offered a chance to redeem yourselves." He spoke the last few words in a tone of supercilious piety. "Frankly, I'm letting Jean-Luc have a shot at you so I can come back and say 'I told you so,' because I don't think you're worth the trouble. The very first thing you're going to try to do is use him to advance your career. The next thing you're going to try to do is kill him." In fact, that was exactly the path Picard's thoughts were taking. He pretended not to be uneasy at the way Q read him so effortlessly. "How exactly did you plan to wipe us out?" "Like this." Q raised a hand and snapped his fingers. Before he even had time to be startled Picard found himself landing hard on his backside. His chair had disappeared from underneath him. Picard looked at Q coolly. "Impressive demonstration. But why? Surely we can come to some understanding." It was something he double might have said. Q looked disappointed. "You *know* I can read minds. Why even make the attempt?" Picard lifted one corner of his mouth. "You would too, in my place." He followed up on some shift he thought he saw in Q's expression. "That bothers you, doesn't it? That you're like me." When Q didn't answer, he pressed his attack. "You want to be more like that one, don't you?" He indicated his gentler nemesis, then shook his head. "You and I are kindred here." He pushed his ambitious nature to the forefront of his thoughts, knowing Q would perceive his delight in the terror he caused, and the fulfillment that was deeper than any sexual gratification ever could be at the power he now wielded. "Feel it," he coaxed. "You want permission to do what I do, to feel what I feel. You can have it." His manner turned openly seductive as he urged Q to yield to temptation. "Give free reign to your feelings," he encouraged. He smiled up at Q, completely in command of himself, even from his position on the floor. "You can have me, my ship, even my government if you'll just allow yourself to take it." "You don't mean a word you're saying." Q stared down at him with loathing and more than a bit of panic in his voice. "In fact, the offer of your body and your worldly goods is one of the most pathetic bids for power I've heard in a long time." "Q," his double put out a restraining hand. "It's all he knows how to say. We don't know what his life has been up to this point." For some reason this offered empathy enraged Picard. He bore down on Jean-Luc with all the rage he was capable of. "You *dare* come here with your arrogant self-righteousness to ask *me* to change? You, who have not lived my life nor met my challenges and in fact, could not do so? Get out! And if you ever come back, I will find a way to kill you, despite your friend's parlor tricks!" To his intense relief, the other Jean-Luc Picard and the man called Q disappeared, leaving him on the floor of his sitting room. He raised his glass to his lips only to find his hands shaking. He took a deep swallow. If nothing else, he wouldn't waste good brandy. ***** -- From!!!!not-for-mail Thu Oct 24 07:41:44 1996 Path:!!!!not-for-mail From: (Jeanita) Newsgroups: alt.startrek.creative,alt.startrek.creative.erotica Subject: NEW: The Best of All Possible Worlds 2/4 (NC17) Date: 24 Oct 1996 07:55:21 -0400 Organization: Capital PC User Group, Inc., Rockville, Maryland, USA Lines: 572 Message-ID: <54nlf9$> NNTP-Posting-Host: Xref: alt.startrek.creative:46716 alt.startrek.creative.erotica:4480 The Best of All Possible Worlds Jeanita Danzik Part 2/4 See part 1 for disclaimers ***** "Well, that was certainly a success!" Q and Jean-Luc were back in his quarters on the Enterprise, where a severely unnerved Jean-Luc was trying to pull himself together. Jean-Luc had faced himself once before on the way to Endicor, a mindless, driven version of himself that had shaken him to his DNA, and he'd hated the peculiar sensation of feeling pity for that person who was himself and yet was not. It was much easier to feel sorry for this Picard, whose tragic universe had warped him into such a grotesque. Worst of all, this dark brother had known of his sympathy and hated him for it. Jean-Luc felt ashamed. He hadn't meant to condescend to the man, but to behold this caricature of a civilized being, and to know that somehow he, too, was that person--it challenged his belief in his ethical and moral grounding like nothing else could. He could barely understand how it was possible for any Jean-Luc Picard to turn out that way, and he was reduced to thinking in tritest cliche that surely there must have been some mistake. "It simply can't be me," he murmured to himself. "Oh, but there's where you're wrong, mon Capitaine." Q's voice made him jerk in startlement. "I apologize, Q. I don't usually ignore my guests." "Oh, take your time, Johnny. I imagine you need a moment to recuperate, n'est ce pas?" To his credit, the entity did not appear particularly amused by their little encounter. If anything, he seemed to loathe ISS Picard even more than Jean-Luc did. "How did I... he... I..." Picard stumbled over pronouns, "turn out that way." "Are you sure you want to know?" Jean-Luc eyed Q suspiciously. "Doubtless I'm going to regret saying this, but yes, I want to know." "Then perhaps a tour would be in order; a brief biography of one Jean-Luc Picard, as it were." But Q's expression held such a peculiar mix of emotions that Jean-Luc almost called a halt. There was nothing he wanted less than to accidentally encourage Q's somewhat... impulsive nature. Their recent misadventures with the alternate universe attracted Q's attention, and he'd come calling. One day he'd been waiting in Jean-Luc's quarters when the Captain came off shift. "That godless barbarian almost killed you!" Q exclaimed. He'd been outraged that Picard had encroached upon his place as sole arbiter of Jean-Luc's destiny, and he had no plans to let that state of affairs remain as they were. "Not to worry, mon Capitaine! I will take care of him for you toute suite!" "NO, Q! What are you planning to do?" Much as he disliked the other universe, Jean-Luc didn't care for the idea of an angry immortal crossing over as a one-person war party. "There are innocent lives at stake." "Untold billions," Q countered, "whose lives are mostly oppressed and miserable. That empire is a blight. It should be put out of it's misery for it's own good." "Yes, I agree with you that it needs to change, but when you say 'put out of it's misery,' what exactly do you mean?" Q shrugged. "Just what it sounds like. Extinction. There *are* other universes, you know." Jean-Luc had been appalled, but this time, instead of losing his temper, he tried to be as cautious as possible. "Don't you think your solution is rather extreme?" "Not to me. You forget, Jean-Luc. I've seen 'em come and I've seen 'em go." Finally they'd compromised. Q agreed let Jean-Luc try to convince Picard of the necessity of transforming the empire. And he'd promised that even if the attempt was unsuccessful he would at least listen to Jean-Luc's recommendations for how it could be changed for the better with a minimum of disruption. That settled, Q brought him over to talk with the mirror Picard, with disappointly dismal results. 'Q's impulses notwithstanding,' Jean-Luc thought, 'I'll have a better chance of getting through to him if I know some of his personal history and background.' Certainly anything was better than simply letting Q destroy them. He looked at Q and nodded, bracing himself for whatever awaited him. Q snapped his fingers, and, without the usual bright flash of light, Jean-Luc found himself sitting at a linen-covered dinner table, eating a bowl of soup. The sound of Q's voice startled him for the second time in as many minutes. "They won't notice our presence, courtesy of me, Jean-Luc. Recognize your old stomping ground?" Jean-Luc looked at Q, who was swallowing a mouthful of pottage. He looked around the room. They were in LeBarre, in the dining room, at a crowded table. His mother and father sat at either end, as usual, and Robert sat across from him, but he did not recognize any of the others. "His brothers and sisters," Q answered his confusion. "Robert you know, of course," Q pointed from oldest to youngest, "and that's Jean-Jacques, Cecile, Angelique, Didier, Anne-Marie, and of course, the baby, Jean-Luc." Jean-Luc stared at the toddler who would grow up to be his heartless counterpart. Even at three, the identity was unmistakable. There were his own dark, serious eyes--he could admit to their intensity since they weren't really 'his'--but they already had a sharp and wary expression he'd never seen on his own face. Like many people who did not generally get along with children, Jean-Luc had a distinct Achilles heel towards the few who did make it past his armor. He already felt helplessly protective of this little boy, and when his mother, imperious and acid- tongued, criticized his table manners, Jean-Luc was ready to swoop down, scoop him up and carry him away to safety. Of course that could not be, and he watched in building anger as the other children laughed while the boy fought tears. Abruptly the scene changed and they were in Jean-Luc's bedroom. A young, red-haired woman lay in bed with him, holding him against her side. The woman crooned softly to him as the child cried away his unhappiness. A knock on the door startled them both, and the woman gently put the boy's hands back to his sides as he clutched at her and tried to get her to stay. "I'll be back as soon as your father's finished with me," she consoled him. "I promise." Jean-Luc turned to Q in horror, but the entity shrugged, clearly saying, 'I had nothing to do with it.' His father's voice, heavy with a lust Jean-Luc had never heard in it before, encouraged the young woman to hurry up. She complied resignedly, and when she was gone they turned their attention back to the child. He climbed out of bed and fished around underneath it until he grabbed hold of something. Jean-Luc had to breathe hard against the sudden tightness in his chest as he recognized an ancient toy. "Coco," he whispered. He suppressed a surge of irrational delight at the sight of his sixty-five year old stuffed elephant, highly embarrassed to be pleased by such a thing. Q glanced at him sharply, and Jean-Luc schooled his emotions off his face, knowing as he did so that it was futile to try to hide anything from Q. Mercifully, the immortal declined to say anything as the boy climbed back into bed holding Coco tightly. "That poor child," Jean-Luc muttered. He'd never clung to Coco like that--never needed to--and he felt truly heartbroken for Picard that he should need to seek comfort from an inanimate toy. "There's a lot more, Jean-Luc, are you up to it?" Jean-Luc sighed heavily. "If he had to take it I suppose I can." They were outside the stables now. Obviously time had passed because the child was much bigger. His father and brothers loomed over him, leering at him as he brought the riding crop down hard against someone's flesh. "Good lad," the father encouraged. "This will teach her to mind her place." His brothers cheered him on also, but Jean-Luc could see terror and frustration on his counterpart's face. He was reluctantly hitting the same young woman who had lain in bed and comforted him several years earlier, and she was crying out under the blows. Jean-Luc observed with distaste that her pain excited many of the watching males, including the ones identified as Picard's brothers. The one closest to him in age, Didier, called to him to tear the bitch's clothes off, earning him a slap from his father. "I'm raising you to be a gentleman, boy," Pere Picard grumbled, "and gentlemen don't use that word in polite company." One of the leering men took up his brother's suggestion and ripped down the front of the woman's blouse. She cried out in embarrassment and shame as Picard was encouraged to aim for her breasts. He did so, his expression slowly coming to mirror his brothers' and father's. The woman shot his father an expression of pure hatred and cried at him to stop this before he turned the boy into a monster like himself. The child's face twisted with his conflicting emotions. Underneath Picard's obvious desire for approval Jean-Luc fancied he could see guilt, shame and confusion, and he knew, somehow, that the boy would never be able to freely love his nurse again. "That was done deliberately," Q affirmed his suspicions. "In order to teach him the difference between equals and inferiors. He was getting too attached to her." Jean-Luc was past horror as more scenes of his counterpart's life rolled past. At age twelve his mirror self watched impassively as another, less well-connected boy took a beating in his place for some infraction he'd committed against one of the myriad grammar-school rules. Sixteen-year-old Picard knelt, gagging, on the dusty floor of a mostly empty classroom, forced to exchange oral sex for a passing grade in calculus. Later he knelt again, this time in exchange for an assignment on the Stargazer-- much better at it, if no more willing. He killed his first sentient being, then his twentieth, then he lost count. His heart was replaced after an assassination attempt, and he learned that it was sound practice to bribe medical staff. He saw a beautiful redhaired woman fall in love with his closest friend, and became insanely jealous of her when she took his friend's attention away from him. "But he's not only alive, by his own terms he's successful," Q responded when Jean-Luc finally hit overload. He'd expressed disbelief that anyone would have the desire to continue to live after such experiences. "I certainly understand why he would resent your pity." "What can I do for him?" Jean-Luc asked despairingly. "Let me have mercy on him." Q raised his hand, fingers ready to snap, and looked at Jean-Luc with a significant expression. He knew what Q meant. "No. He deserves a chance. After that upbringing, he deserves all the time he needs." "Jean-Luc, you're asking the impossible of him. And of yourself. You can't unmake his life." "But you could." "But I won't. I'm not a social worker." "But why not, Q? Why not do good for the simple reason that you're able to." "Because I'm not you," Q answered, and bitterness burned around his words. "He's not the only one who won't be remade in your image." "Then he was right," the woebegone expression was almost more than Q could stand. "You are like him." "I never said I wasn't." "I want to talk to him again." "You're a fool, Jean-Luc." Q was absolutely exasperated, but he took charge of the excursion like a nervous parent sending his child away to his first summer camp. He gave Jean-Luc the ability to block Picard's telepathy. He gave him time-travel, the ability to teleport from one universe to the other, and protection from phaser fire, poison and knife wounds, and he promised to bring him back to the same moment in time that he'd left. Finally he looked at Jean-Luc and sighed. "I don't suppose you'd let me talk you out of this." He answered his own question. "Of course not." "There is one thing, Q." Jean-Luc was all ready and eager to go, but now he sat down on his sofa and looked up at the entity with open curiosity. "Why are you doing this for me?" Q stared at him shrewdly. "For the entertainment value, mostly." "Mostly?" Jean-Luc repeated. "What's the rest?" "I'm not going to tell you," Q answered snippily. "You must allow me *some* secrets Jean-Luc." Jean-Luc nodded as if he'd expected that answer all along. Then he stood up, braced himself, and disappeared. ***** "Well, coward, what *is* the rest?" Q demanded of himself once Jean-Luc had gone. He would never dare admit to Jean-Luc just how much he'd come to value him since discovering his double. He'd felt the shift when the Enterprise had suddenly been pulled out of this universe, but by the time he'd arrived to investigate, his industrious little mortals were in the process of solving the problem all by themselves. He'd been proud of them, and annoyed with himself. Until that point it never occurred to him to do an inventory of all the Jean-Lucs in all the various universes. In the Uniplex, the universe of universes, there were too many for even a Q to count, but in the arc of parallel universes there was a manageable number. He found a lot of starship captains, but he also found Jean-Luc the vintner, Jean-Luc the teacher, Jean-Luc the governor of New Paris--there were literally thousands of variants-- the singer, the pimp, the choreographer, the drug addict; a Jean- Luc for every occasion. He decided that he wasn't being biased in concluding that he'd accidently picked the best of them all. 'His' Jean-Luc demanded the most of himself, and offered up the most of himself. He'd somehow alchemized all his traits into their highest expressions, and Q couldn't help but admire him for it. Goodness was everywhere in the man. It showed up, for example, in the instant compassion he'd offered to his double. It hadn't occurred to Q to look at Picard's past and find reasons for his heinous behavior, but the first thing Jean-Luc had done when he had a spare moment was to sit down and reason through his revulsion, concluding that he and Picard were, in some fashion, the same individual. And if he, Jean-Luc, could know compassion and honesty and respect and fearlessness, then his alternate could feel them as well. He'd been right, of course, but Q had not bothered to tell him how impressed he was that Jean-Luc could come to this conclusion on his own. He had, however, been inclined to give Jean-Luc the wherewithal to try to bring his brutish counterpart around to the sweet light of humanity, pointless though the exercise would be. 'Admit it, Q,' he reproached himself. 'Little, mortal Jean- Luc is a nobler being than you ever have a chance of becoming. Finding him was like finding a random piece of paper in your pocket and then discovering that it's a winning lottery ticket.' And that brought him to the problem of Jean-Luc's ugly double. Uneasy with the fact that he gave so much respect to a mere human, and even more distressed to find so few of those characteristics in himself, he was horrified to discover that of the two, he most resembled Picard of the ISS Enterprise. When Picard claimed that he and Q were alike Q wanted to protest, but the truth had held him quiet. He *was* very much like Jean-Luc's alter ego. He wondered what he would do if he found out there was a nobler, more honorable Q in some facet of some universe he hadn't yet explored. Or even worse, some Q who was the exact equivalent of the alternate universe's Picard. No. His fellow Q wouldn't allow such a being to exist. He hoped. "But what if *all* the Q were like that?" He asked himself. He quickly walled off the thought. Jean-Luc might be able to face his alternate, but Q didn't even have the courage to find out if another Continuum existed, much less confront it. ***** Picard was alone in his quarters when his double reappeared. "So, you're back again," he grated. He felt truly antagonized by these intrusions but he kept his expression neutral. "I wondered how long you could stay away. Where's your friend?" Jean-Luc cleared his throat. "I asked him to let me come alone this time." Picard made note of the fact that his double said 'asked', not 'told'. "Why?" Jean-Luc was nervous, and he let it show in his gestures. "I didn't want you to feel..." He trailed off, not sure what would give offense, but Picard understood. "Overwhelmed by a being of such immense power." He let some of his anger show. "You haven't apologized for loosing the nanites into my engine core." "I owe you an apology for a great deal more than that." Jean- Luc said. "Actually you don't." Picard smiled. "Commander LaForge paid for that little peccadillo with his life..." He noticed the betrayed expression on his other's face. "Don't tell me that upsets you." This counterpart of his was truly peculiar. "Why?" "I keep forgetting," Jean-Luc looked unwell. "Where I come from, Geordi is my friend." "Yes. You have friends. You 'trust' each other." Picard mouthed the word trust as if it were a term from an alien language with no local equivalent. He did not sneer when he said it. He wanted to reach out, to put his double at ease. He suspected that if he could seduce this man, Q would be his for the taking. The thought of all that power made his head feel light. Perhaps Q could even grant some of his abilities to Picard, and wouldn't that be wondrous! And all he had to do was convince his double to trust him. He held his hands out in a careful, non-threatening gesture. "I will not try to hurt you this time," he promised, and meant it. His alternate read the truth of this in his eyes and relaxed perceptibly. Picard kept the scorn off his face, turning his back to get two snifters of brandy out of the replicator. Troi told him once that repetition and routine were important when you wanted someone to lower their guard--information that would come in handy in his seduction of his counterpart. "I am curious about something." Picard said by way of making conversation. "Why are you so different from me?" Both his counterpart's eyebrows shot up. "How do you mean?" He asked cautiously. "You know exactly what I mean. They said you would be softer, weaker, and you are, yet you outsmarted us." Now his counterpart forced a smile. "Our basic temperaments are probably the same, but experiences certainly divide us. That's why our outlooks, responses, and expectations are so distinct." Picard scrutinized him with genuine curiosity. Jean-Luc tried not to squirm under that cold, amused stare. Finally, for lack of anything better to do, he said, "It might clarify things if I showed you what my life has been," he offered. "After all, I've seen yours." "If it would not be any bother," Picard responded. "I admit to being inquisitive." "Not at all," Jean-Luc answered, then thought, 'How polite we are. We're obviously both afraid.' He noticed that Picard made no mention of time displacement or the effect his absence would have on his ship. He didn't seem to care. Jean-Luc stood, and because he'd always seen Q do it this way, snapped his fingers. They were in LeBarre again, and it was midnight, and eight-year-old Jean-Luc was climbing out his window to run through the vineyards in the moonlight. The boy was giddy with excitement and pleasure, as if sheer magic had arisen from the earth to take possession of him. He spun in circles under the warm summer moon, laughing and dancing to music only he could hear. Picard tried to hide his smoldering anger, and his sudden flash of jealousy. He would have been caught and beaten had he tried such a thing. This Jean-Luc ran through the vines until exhaustion overcame enchantment, and the next day, so sleepy he could barely keep his eyes open, managed to win a spelling contest. His double apparently led a charmed life. He received a prize for writing and a prize for astronomy and a prize for sports and a prize for history--so many prizes, in fact, that Picard began to hate the proud, smiling boy. He listened in disbelief as Jean-Luc was taught that his privileged existence obligated him to give back in kind. He smirked along with Robert when Jean-Luc had to stand in front of his family and report that he'd failed his academy entrance exams. 'I'm going to enjoy watching this beating,' Picard thought with grim amusement, but even then, at this most painful of failures, there had been no hitting. His father simply harrumphed that Jean-Luc had finally gotten this Starfleet business out of his system. In fact, Picard was amazed at the complete lack of beatings that seem to go on in that household. And the house was so quiet! He keenly felt Jean-Jacques and Didiers' absence in this other existence. And no sisters! No girls' voices, no bright dresses, no hair ribbons, no dolls anywhere. Picard suddenly felt fortunate that he'd been able to watch the process of girls maturing to adults. It gave him an ease and familiarity with women that he sensed his stilted double would not possess. He thought back to the celebration they'd held the day his oldest sister Cecile got her first menstrual period. His normally warring parents had exchanged looks of sentimental pride; Angelique and Anne-Marie had waited on her like she was a princess; and Cecile walked around with her head held very high, occasionally pressing her hand to her abdomen in case anyone might have missed the fact of her transformation into maturity. Jealous, toddler Picard had started to cry, claiming that he, too, had gotten his period. Jean-Jacques and Didier had been weak with laughter, but later they lavished attention on him, even going so far as to let him play with their precious model ships. So he'd known the warmth and safety of older siblings, at least for a short while, something Jean-Luc had never experienced. Tight, cruel Robert was no substitute for the missing others. "Your life was so lonely," he commented. He could see that Jean-Luc was shocked. Obviously he'd never expected pity or criticism from his alternate. Picard grinned at Jean-Luc's quickly suppressed indignation. "That bothers you about me doesn't it? That I'm more perceptive." Picard shrugged, thinking of the scenes he'd just witnessed. Jean-Luc's easy walk through life had honed no survival skills. "I've had to be." Jean-Luc nodded, absorbing this. They continued to watch his life up to the day the Nausican stabbed him through the heart. Picard nodded. "I've seen enough," he said to Jean-Luc. Jean-Luc snapped his fingers and they were back in Picard's quarters, sitting in front of their untouched brandies. Picard picked his glass up and drank, more to have something to do than because he was thirsty. He felt smugly pleased with himself. Having seen Jean-Luc's life, he knew he would be able to handle this counterpart of his. A plan began to form. Suddenly the door to his quarters burst open. Deanna rushed in, saw him and froze, confusion emblazoned across her mind. "She can't see me or hear me," Jean-Luc said quickly. "She won't know I'm present unless you tell her." Q had suggested this and now Jean-Luc was glad he'd taken him up on it. Picard whipped his head around to stare at Jean-Luc, but recovered fairly quickly. He turned to Deanna who dropped her eyes. "You weren't there," she stammered. "I don't know how to explain it, but for a moment you were utterly gone. I came to see..." She trailed off, aware that he would read the disappointment she couldn't help but feel. "You came in here hoping against hope that I'd been killed." Picard smiled with cold amusement. "I can't say I'm sorry to disappoint you, but since you're here..." He pointed to his bedroom. Deanna turned, obeying him without a word. Picard turned back to Jean-Luc who was looking at him in disapproval. "That was rather rude," Jean-Luc reproached. "You can say this about the person who would have killed you without a second thought?" "I can say it to you," Jean-Luc pointed out. "Touche, Captain." Picard suddenly thought of a way to rattle his counterpart. He gestured towards the bedroom. "Would you like her? Be my guest." He suppressed his amusement at Jean-Luc's undisguised horror. "Would I...? Ah. No, thank you." "Then come watch," Picard offered urbanely. When Jean-Luc blanched, Picard shook his head in derision. "You wanted to know about my life. You wanted to *see* me. This is me, Jean-Luc." "I could never..." Jean-Luc began. "If I asked you to." Picard pressed. "If I told you it was important to me. That I needed you to see me as I am. Would you do it for my sake?" "I would say it was a bald attempt at manipulation and I would refuse." Picard was disappointed. This double of his had a core of iron. How many times was he going to run smack up against it before he learned to work it to his advantage? "Very well then. In deference to your more refined sensibilities, I shall withdraw my offer." "What I would really like," Jean-Luc's voice was steady even though tiny beads of sweat were beginning to form across his brow, "is for you to talk to me." Picard raised an enquiring eyebrow, and Jean-Luc blushed deeply. "I've been called a busybody, and a sanctimonious do-gooder," Jean-Luc confessed, "and I suppose I am. That doesn't mean my desire to help is anything less than genuine, and if I'm going to do the right thing, I'm going to need to know more about you. I believe Q will act on my suggestion as to the disposal of this universe, so it would be better all around if I knew what I was talking about." Ah, yes, it always came back to Q. He was the power behind all this. Picard wondered if Jean-Luc had ever asked himself why a being of such obvious power (and Picard vowed then and there to weasel out of Jean-Luc every scrap of information he had about Q) would bother with an inconsequential starship captain. "Why does Q even listen to you?" "He's bored and lonely," Jean-Luc answered. "And he's long since lost the ability to respond creatively. He can bully and threaten, but where's the charm in hurting people if that becomes your only response to a challenge?" Could he truly be that big a fool? Q would do anything Jean- Luc asked of him for one simple reason: he was infatuated with him. Why else protect him? Why else allow him back here on this hare-brained mission of mercy? Picard nodded to himself. "Talk to you? What shall we talk about?" He suppressed another smile at Jean-Luc's response. Obviously sanctimonious do-goodism did not override Captainly pragmatism. "Tell me about your mission," Jean-Luc said. There was no need to ask which mission--obviously he meant the one that had dragged his ship into Picard's universe. Picard ignored the request, choosing instead to tell him about the new armaments the ISS Enterprise was sporting and what he intended to do with them. Jean-Luc appeared revolted. "How can you speak so casually of the deaths of millions?" Picard was surprised to find that he felt a bit hurt at Jean-Luc's response. He hadn't been bragging, exactly, but the elaborate new weapons system deserved a better reaction than unmitigated horror. "They disobeyed. What else would I do?" Picard answered with a trace of impatience. Then he was even further irritated when Jean-Luc mumbled something about not wanting to overstay his welcome and disappeared. 'How strange,' he mused. 'He said he wanted to talk, and instead he just vanishes.' ***** Jean-Luc sat on the sofa in his quarters breathing deeply and feeling very stupid and mildly depressed. His brief conversation with Picard had shaken him so badly that he'd needed to get away from that person and that universe. Oh, he'd muttered a quick excuse about having to return to the Enterprise, but hearing Picard's innocent pragmatism when he asked what else one did with dissidents except kill them finally pushed Jean-Luc into a physical reaction. He wished he could convince himself that he hadn't just run away, but the fact was, he'd become so nauseous that he had to leave before he embarrassed himself. And as he considered his reaction, the enormity of the task he'd set himself finally began to sink in. Jean-Luc felt all the pity in the universe settle around him on behalf of this poor twisted soul, but there was the literal question of his ability to stomach Picard's presence. Surprisingly, he found that he felt protective of his alternate self, as if he would keep the depredations of his universe from infecting him any further. "I'm utterly overwhelmed," he murmured, rubbing his head. "You are?" Picard opened his eyes. He hadn't realized they'd been closed until he heard Q's voice without seeing his face. "I want to do something for him, Q, but I don't know what, and I don't know how." "Oh, Jean-Luc to the rescue," Q purred nastily. "Going to bandage all his booboos and wipe his little face?" Fatigued enough to be easily irritated, Jean-Luc was not inclined to be cautious around his omnipotent nemesis. "Could you please try to display a *little* empathy for once? You saw what his life has been." "Did we forget to take our smart pill today?" Q was pleased to see Jean-Luc's features tighten at his jibe. "That's precisely what allows him to survive. He wouldn't live another minute if it weren't for the experiences that make him what he is. *You* were there a day and almost got yourself killed. That would have never happened to him." For once Jean-Luc could not come up with a cogent response. After a long moment he said, "I don't want to undo his experiences, Q, but there must be a way to show him an alternate means of self- expression." "You just want him to be more like you." The comment stung. "Alright, yes, dammit!" Jean-Luc rose to his feet. "I would say that *my* reality and *my* experiences are far superior to anything you can show me from that... that miserable toilet of a universe." "Oh, I agree with you," Q shrugged, "but you won't be able to convince *him* of that." "I have to believe that I can," Jean-Luc answered resolutely. "For his sake and the sake of the innocents who will die if I don't." Q sighed. "Jean-Luc you are so mistaken it's not even funny." He seemed genuinely frustrated, but Jean-Luc's exasperation flared. "How can you not want to help them change?" He demanded. "Q, you've helped me before. How can you not see that some part of me exists within that Captain Picard; within all the Picards that ever were or will be. And if you've helped me, why can't you help me help him?" Jean-Luc was waltzing way too close to the questions Q didn't want to face, and now the entity was genuinely angry. How dare this pipsqueak lecture him on his responsibilities? He wagged a menacing finger in Jean-Luc's face. "Don't say I haven't warned you. Go ahead and try to reach him." Q snapped his fingers. "There. You'll keep the abilities I've given you until this is over. Do your best, but let it be on your head." With that Q disappeared and Jean-Luc stomped off to take a shower. He let the water beat down on him until he felt calmer, then he dressed and sat down at his desk to go over the quarterly budget report he had to make to Starfleet. He found it hard to concentrate. Objectively, time stopped for him while he was in the other universe, but he was still tired. Well, there was plenty of time to do the report. He closed the file, lay down on his bed and took a nap. ***** -- From!!!!not-for-mail Thu Oct 24 07:41:46 1996 Path:!!!!not-for-mail From: (Jeanita) Newsgroups: alt.startrek.creative,alt.startrek.creative.erotica Subject: NEW: The Best of All Possible Worlds 3/4 (NC17) Date: 24 Oct 1996 08:01:32 -0400 Organization: Capital PC User Group, Inc., Rockville, Maryland, USA Lines: 814 Message-ID: <54nlqs$> NNTP-Posting-Host: Xref: alt.startrek.creative:46717 alt.startrek.creative.erotica:4481 The Best of All Possible Worlds Jeanita Danzik Part 3/4 See part 1 for disclaimers ***** Picard was, in his way, kind to Jean-Luc. As weeks passed he found himself treating the other captain like a protege. This was partly because, in the normal order of the Empire, having caused Wesley's death, Jean-Luc would naturally usurp his place. And partly because Jean-Luc was, to Picard's thinking, too brainlessly lucky to be allowed to run around loose. It unnerved Picard to see any version of himself behave like such a naive, trusting fool, and he couldn't believe the man's luck would hold out forever. He took Jean-Luc on as a project because it was his habit to pass on his years of accumulated knowledge to whoever was wise enough to receive it. He'd tried to teach Wesley, but the boy had been too impatient. Well, that was the way of it, though sometimes he wondered why he bothered. Wesley, at least, made a pretense of listening. This man was a know-it-all, and he was almost always wrong. Take this assignment to the Tahvi homeworld, for instance. Jean-Luc couldn't simply accept that they needed to be disciplined. He had to know why they had to be killed in order to gain their cooperation. Wasn't there another way? Wouldn't the people he was stealing from miss their possessions and natural resources? Picard smirked at him derisively. "I believe, good Captain, that you are a fool." Jean-Luc's face grew still the way it always did when his feelings were hurt. "I have been called that before." "And you didn't believe it then, either." Picard sat down and rubbed his face with his hands. "Listen carefully. The Empire needs the Tahvi's murinium. My job is to take it from them, and to suppress any rebellion that might arise from the disruptive elements of their society. That's why I'm out here." "But why can't you work cooperatively? An exchange of some sort, that would generate good will instead of resistance." "Because that option isn't available!" Picard finally became impatient with his witless student. "Why can't you see that?" Jean-Luc frowned. He'd said the same thing to Riker when Worf wanted to commit suicide after his vertebra were smashed in the cargo bay. "I... will try to understand that." Picard shook his head, amusement in his eyes. "You will try, but you won't succeed." He paused for a bit and changed the subject. "You know I blame you for Wesley's death. Lurking around *my* ship pretending to be me, you made a midshipman's error that cost the boy's life." Guilt and shame crossed Jean-Luc's features as he looked anywhere but into Picard's face. Picard wanted to shake him. "Stop feeling things, Jean-Luc! It will only make you weaker. Blame me for yanking you into my universe in the first place, don't you understand?" But when Jean-Luc raised his eyes to meet Picard's, it was obvious to Picard that he'd been talking to the walls. Jean-Luc did not answer, but his intention to refuse the advice was obvious. Picard sighed. The man was impossible, and they always reached this point, where they were reduced to glaring at each other. Now Jean-Luc would return to his universe and Picard would go about his business slightly grumpier than usual, though his bad mood would be tinged with humor. He was actually beginning to like the little pedant. Thank god the rest of his life was stable. ***** For a long time previous to her capture, Deanna had felt a moderately concealed contempt for Dr. Beverly Crusher. That a woman of her obvious intelligence had allowed herself to be snared spoke volumes about her weak nature. Monitoring from a distance, she'd felt unending scorn for the things Beverly enjoyed--a whole afternoon to herself, the chance to choose her own meals when Picard was away from the ship, the rare kind word from her son; Deanna despised her for the gratitude she gleaned from these simple pleasures. Now, she found herself having to learn from Beverly how to smuggle in the small joys that would make her life bearable. Once she'd disdained the fact that Beverly's existence was so narrow that little things like a new pair of shoes could make her happy. Now she envied her. Beverly had never had power, so she didn't know what it was like to miss it. Deanna on the other hand, had once been a force to be reckoned with, and even though everyone else on the ship was still terrified of her, she knew she was now a fake, riding on a deliberately concocted image until she was inevitably revealed for the fraud she was. 'Dies Irae,' she thought. She could sense it coming closer, and there was nothing to be done about it. Still, she was amazed at how easy it was to live with the constant threat of exposure hanging over her. Her smile, pasted on though it might be, still had the power to frighten people. No one knew of the times Picard idly summoned her from the bridge into his ready room and pointed to the floor. She knelt, took him in her mouth and brought him off, after which he casually dismissed her. She could sense that he didn't really want her but was using her because when he looked at her he remembered what she was for, like ordering a meal simply because the food was available, hunger or no. She told herself that it was the way of power and tried not to mind. Every time he took her he took another piece of her, but she ignored this fact because there was nothing to be done about it. She smiled when she left his presence, if only to prove that she still could. Now Deanna's world, like Beverly's, was becoming more and more circumscribed. She wished she did not have to feel the contempt with which Picard viewed her, but there was no way to avoid it, and she burned with shame under his mental scrutiny. In his mind she'd been reduced to nothing, less than nothing; even the word 'whore' was too good a description for how he saw her now. Worst of all, the more unworthy she became in his regard, the more eager she was to please him. She tried to tell herself she didn't care, that she was still 'The Counselor' regardless of how he behaved towards her, but she was so increasingly desperate for his approval that she could barely function if she thought she had displeased him. Objectively she knew what was happening to her. She'd read the texts and remembered the terminology--Stockholm syndrome, learned helplessness, identification with the abuser. She knew precisely how her identity was being stripped from her. Indeed, she'd done the same thing on more than one occasion and could even find it in herself to admire the effectiveness of his technique. Shamed, humiliated and deathly afraid of him, his random attacks kept her off-balance and uncertain--a very effective means of promoting victimhood and dependance. But all the admiration in the world did not save her when he forced himself into her mind and she groveled helplessly under his amused derision. Her envy of Beverly grew stronger. She'd never had much in the way of mental defenses, so she didn't feel naked without them, and she was so accustomed to servitude, it didn't bother her anymore. With an undercurrent of the same amazement she felt when he'd first raped her, Deanna observed dispassionately as he relentlessly stripped away whole portions of her autonomy. She had to ask to read her mail. She had to ask him if she could eat. She had to ask him for her clothes. He took her credits, creating a state of financial dependence so complete she could only marvel at it. When she was not on duty she was not allowed to leave his quarters. 'Why am I still alive?' she would ask herself. She thought about the cringing thing she'd become and was filled with self- loathing. That, more than anything, convinced her of her own hopelessness: the fact that she was unable to hate the Captain for what he'd done to her. Beverly, on the other hand, was beginning to be the recipient of Deanna's admiration. She had nightgowns, and her own hairbrush. And she could use the computer whenever she wanted without asking. Deanna wanted to be like Beverly. She wanted to *be* Beverly, as if that transformation would somehow make her life alright again. ***** Jean-Luc disliked almost everything about Picard: his secretive, dictatorial management style, the joy he took in terrorizing his subordinates, his deliberate attempts to intimidate Jean-Luc, his awful habit of raiding planets for loot and distributing it among his followers, his easy commercialization of resources, including sentient life, his Machiavellian techniques for gathering information--Jean-Luc condemned them all heartily. But as Jean-Luc spent time with him, he came to understand the workings of Picard's daily life. Picard was efficient, competent, even operationally brilliant because he always assumed every move by another was an attack, and he was almost always right. Given what he was learning about the ISS Enterprise's Byzantine politics, Jean-Luc marveled that he'd managed to stay alive the short time he'd lived there. Had he known then what he knew now, he would have been too terrified to open his mouth. Picard, on the other hand, thrived within his environment. Sometimes he made predictions to his reluctant pupil about who would die next and why, and Jean-Luc watched agog as events unfolded exactly the way Picard described them. He found himself admiring Picard's effectiveness, if not his methods, but he never dared say so in case Picard should interpret it as approval of his behavior. And if he was dangerous in the public arena, in private he was vicious cruelty writ large. Jean-Luc quickly learned to schedule his visits for the times when he knew Picard was alone because he couldn't stand his own helplessness at the way Deanna and Beverly were treated. The first time he saw them in Picard's quarters he was surprised, thinking that they'd somehow managed to beam over from the Enterprise. Within moments, however, he learned to distinguish Picard's women from his two friends. It was their body language, he realized, the way they moved and held themselves. Empty eyes, features deliberately slack and blank, the care taken to stay out of striking distance--they displayed the postures and attitudes of a pair of slaves. Picard was unapproachable on the topic. They were his women. He did what he liked with them. Period. It sickened Jean-Luc because he knew they could be so much more magnificent than they were allowed to be. Whenever he saw them he was filled with yearning for the wholeness of his universe's Beverly and Deanna. 'Nevertheless,' he decided, 'If I am to help them, I must endure having to see them on occasion, no matter how much it bothers me.' And try not to rage at the senselessness of their violent ways, he reminded himself. It had taken him a while to figure out that there had been a confrontation between Picard and Deanna which probably had to do with Picard's newfound telepathic abilities. Q had only mentioned it the one time, but the counselor was so changed from the first time he'd met her that he knew Picard had done something to hurt her. 'She hurt others, but that's no excuse,' he thought, and was abruptly dissatisfied with his prim judgementalism. She'd once been impervious to others' pain; indeed, she'd reveled in it. Karma, kismet, fair play, justice; Jean-Luc didn't know what to make of it anymore, and the answers that might have satisfied him once were insufficient now. The woman who'd been powerful enough to threaten Captain Picard himself was gone. In her place a frightened, flinching lackey scrambled to obey her captain but could not bring herself to meet his eyes. Who deserved what? "So he won that one too," Jean-Luc muttered to himself. He'd taken to doing that a lot lately when he was by himself. He'd also taken to staying in his quarters when he wasn't on duty or with Picard. 'Like an animal hiding in it's burrow,' he thought. He rebelled at that image and decided to go out at once. He made his way towards the door, but couldn't help but notice that he walked very slowly and reluctantly. The sofa was beginning to look rather inviting. "This little project has taken its toll on you, hasn't it, Captain?" It was Q, lounging with his feet up on Jean-Luc's desk. "Of course it has," Jean-Luc answered shortly. He found time to marvel that he spoke to Q with such impatience in his tone, but after dicing with Picard all evening, he really didn't feel like bothering with niceties. "If you've come to remind me that I haven't yet gotten through to him, then I bow to your all-seeing knowledge, O wise one." 'I must be really tired,' he thought. 'I've never spoken to Q with such open sarcasm.' Q didn't appear to mind. "Oh, do sit down, Captain." Q's voice was sweetly officious. "You look like you could use a rest." Q was right, of course. The hours spent with Picard were more draining than he liked to admit, and he felt sensitive about that. How very like Q to bring up that exact point. "Now what, Q? Come to see if I've given up? Well, I haven't." He glared at Q, wondering where that comment had come from. 'Was I really thinking of giving up?' he asked himself. Q sighed. "Stubborn little Johnny. Admit it. He hasn't changed a bit for all your best intentions." "It will take time. The things he's had to endure..." "Are no worse than what you've endured," Q said in bored tones. "Or what *I've* endured for that matter." Jean-Luc held on to his temper. "I rather doubt that," he answered witheringly. "Have *you* ever been raped?" "In fact I have," Q answered, stunning him. "And so have you, and you know what? We did the very thing you won't give Picard credit for doing. We survived. It's a more common experience than you'd like to admit, and most people get over it and live fairly productive lives. So what's your excuse for him?" "But he was so young." "And that makes a difference? When it happened to you did it hurt you any less than it did him?" "By the time I ran into the Cardassians I'd had a lifetime of other experiences. I was able to integrate it more easily." Q just stared. He would have pointed out that 'suppress' and 'integrate' were two different words, but then he would have felt duty-bound to deal with Jean-Luc's buried trauma, and the very idea frightened him. Q-like, he attacked somewhere else. "If you had any sense you'd be admiring him rather than wearing yourself out trying to change him. As I recall, I've bailed you out on more than one occasion. He's come as far as you have, and he did it on his own." As he expected, the gibe made Jean-Luc lose his temper. "*You* have only ever acted within your own self-interests! Now if you'll excuse me, I have a play to attend." And with that he stormed out the door. Jean-Luc sat through the first act and fumed, angry with himself for losing control. Was this the way of it, that whenever he was feeling overwhelmed Q would come to taunt him into action again? Jean-Luc thought it was a conspicuous and vulgar tactic, and he wouldn't admit that it had worked. He knew he hadn't yet gotten through to Picard, but it annoyed him to have to defend his failure by making excuses for him, and he became angry with Picard who would not listen to him. Not surprisingly, he strengthened his resolve to succeed at this whatever the cost. 'Goddammned Q,' he muttered. Another patron frowned his way then noticed who he was frowning at and quickly looked away again. During intermission, as he wandered over to the champagne, he heard a voice behind him. "Captain, we don't see you much anymore." It was Troi, doing her job. "I've been spending a lot of time in my quarters, Deanna." "My point exactly, Captain." She smiled at him but when he grimaced slightly in return, she shifted her body away from him, giving him space. Jean-Luc remembered the beaten-dog cringing of the other Deanna he knew and immediately regretted his behavior. "I beg your pardon Counselor. I've had a great many things on my mind lately." "Of course." Deanna made as if to move away, but he called out, stopping her. "Deanna, perhaps you could help me." "Certainly, Captain." She smiled expectantly. "If one had an... acquaintance who had been extremely hurt emotionally over a long period of time, how exactly would one go about helping him?" "One wouldn't." Deanna answered cautiously. She could see how difficult this was and made her voice matter-of-fact, knowing he would take any gentleness as coddling. "One would leave it to a professional." "And if there are no professionals? If the only counselor available is mostly inept starship Captain? Then what does one do?" His voice got no louder, but there was such strain in it that Deanna was shocked. She'd had no idea he was in such straits. "You don't mean anyone on the Enterprise..." she began. "No," he answered quickly. "You do your job much better than that, Counselor. In fact, this person isn't even in the Federation." Deanna looked him over carefully. He was thinner, which was a bad sign, and there were circles under his eyes. That he'd come to her at all meant he was probably hopelessly foundering in his attempts to help this person. Heedless of how her gentleness might annoy him, she suggested that perhaps this project was taking more out of him than he could afford to give. Knowing him, that was all she had to say about where his true priorities should be. He smiled back, allowing himself to sag for a brief second before straightening his back. "There may be many lives at stake, Counselor. I have no choice in this." After the play he stayed up late and looked up counseling techniques. He was quickly overwhelmed by the information. He gained a new respect for Troi but learned nothing of how to handle himself with Picard. Well, he would have to wing it as best he could and pray that he did no damage. ***** Jean-Luc knew he was becoming more irritating by the day. His questions were rude and intrusive, and he persistantly demanded answers about things Picard obviously chose not to think about. Offended past bearing, Picard resorted to ordering him off the ship, but Jean-Luc always came back with more questions. It was important he said, though Picard objected that he couldn't see what good there was in talking about the past. Jean-Luc, however, was relentless. "Tell me about the time you had to beat your nurse." He saw at once that he'd tapped into a core of pain and rage. Picard gave him a baleful, warning glance that--to Jean-Luc's eye-- held a terrifying amount of suffering in it. 'If he could spit venom at me, he would,' Jean-Luc thought, but he stood his ground. "She hung herself that night," Picard finally answered dully. He looked at Jean-Luc as if he had not quite fathomed what that meant, more than sixty years later, and Jean-Luc struggled to keep the horror off his own face. "My father showed me her body." Talking about it, Picard even looked wounded, hunched over, stiff and wary, his arms around his middle. 'Fighting it,' Jean-Luc realized. He wanted to lay a comforting hand against Picard's shoulder, but he knew Picard wouldn't allow it. Instead he simply listened to a story refined by years of churning it to try to make sense of what had happened. Beating the girl was Picard's first taste of power and he liked it, but he hadn't known what it could drive her to. He'd betrayed her, and so had been betrayed in return. At least his father said so when he showed Picard her body, and it made sense. What else was he to think? Later his father had spoken kindly to him about preserving his status. He could not be friends with lesser folk. They only tried to take advantage. He told the story without emotion in his voice, but his body continued to tell on him. He was shaken by waves of uncontrolled trembling, and despite his attempt to maintain his composure the expression on his face was one of bewildered pain. 'I'm doing this all wrong,' Jean-Luc thought despairingly. When Picard started to speak he wanted nothing more than to go to him and hold him. Perhaps he should, for his own comfort as well as Picard's. This session had worn him into a state of extreme fatigue, which was hardly surprising. He wondered how Picard stood it. His own body ached in empathy as he acknowledged the degree to which much misery took it's toll on his alternate. He'd been in Picard's bathroom. There were pain pills and muscle relaxants of all descriptions--hypos scattered everywhere. Jean-Luc could have used a little medicating himself at the moment. Listening to Picard tell that story was like bathing in grief. Finally he stood, sighing in weariness, but Picard stood with him. "Not so fast." Picard had a calculating glint in his eye. "I want something from you." Jean-Luc raised an eyebrow. Picard smiled ferally and approached him. He grasped Jean-Luc by the upper arm, invading his space like he'd never done before. He put his head very close. "You take my stories from me. I deserve something in return. Fair is fair. Isn't that what you're trying to teach me?" Slowly he brought his mouth towards Jean-Luc's, watching him for a reaction. 'Payback for making him talk about this,' Jean-Luc thought to himself. 'He's lost control and he has to gain it back.' His first instinct was to recoil in disgust, but that, he realized, was exactly how Picard intended to regain the upper hand. Acting on a counterstrategy before he had a chance to talk himself out of it, he put his face towards Picard's, tilted his head and let their lips touch. Picard drew back slightly, hesitant now that Jean-Luc was showing no resistance. 'Touche,' Jean-Luc thought. He relaxed his body, letting it melt into Picard's rough grasp. This was the very first lesson he'd ever learned from The Art of War; attack the enemy's strategy. If he ever ran into Sun Tzu he was going to thank him. Picard broke off the kiss and stared at him, wary, resentful and confused. Now it was Jean-Luc's turn to move in. He brought his arms up, moving one hand up to embrace the back of Picard's head as the other cupped his face. His kiss was gentle and as sweet as he knew how to make it, and it was Picard who stiffened and tried to pull away. "I know what you're trying to do," the ISS Captain muttered, "and it won't work." "I'm going to do what no one has done for you in a long time. Probably not ever. I'm going to make love to you." "Stop it!" Picard hissed. He stepped away and Jean-Luc delicately stepped after him, confident now, in what he had to do. After all, how could he look at this wounded self and not want to make it whole, whatever it took? "I know you're afraid," he said gently, "but you *know* I would never hurt you." He had Picard against a wall now, so he simply stood very close to him, letting him get used to the idea of what was about to happen. Every bit of Picard's training, he realized, must be screaming at him that this was suicidally dangerous, and Jean-Luc had no wish to frighten him further. He yearned for Picard to believe in the safety of his touch. "Don't." Picard was trying to use his command voice, but to Jean-Luc it sounded like a plea. "Don't be afraid." Jean-Luc soothed. "I won't leave you. How could I, when I so want you to be safe?" He smiled at the amazement on his alternate's face. "How could I know you're afraid that I'll leave you? I *am* you, remember?" Tenderly, Jean-Luc pressed forward, and again experienced the shock of touching his mouth to his own thin dry lips. Anticipation surged in him excitedly, and he suspected Picard was having the same thought. 'If he's as good at this as I am, this will be very good.' Picard evidently got tired of feeling hesitant because he seized the initiative, grabbing Jean-Luc in a bruisingly tight grip and turning him around so that now Jean-Luc's back was to the wall. Jean-Luc didn't resist, understanding that Picard was trying to reassert control. He parted his lips to Picard's probing tongue, knowingly absorbing the pain and grief that flowed out of this wounded piece of himself. In return he gave his certainty, his serene acceptance of the fact that Picard was handing him the first layers of rage and anger that had protected his heart for so long. He understood the gift of trust he was being offered, and he accepted the task of transmuting this festering sickness into something healthy as he simultaneously accepted Picard's hands on his body. They did not try to impress each other, at least not at first. Jean-Luc was worried that Picard would have a taste for sadism, and he let himself be kissed passively at first, afraid of what he might discover. That anxiety only lasted a moment, however, before he decided that *he* would define the outcome of this encounter. He brought his hand up to Picard's face and caressed his cheek gently, feeling Picard sigh as his body relaxed. 'So far, so good,' Jean-Luc thought with relief. He slid his hands down the length of Picard's torso, fusing their bodies together, heart to heart, belly to belly, groin to groin. Picard seemed to understand that this was about pleasure, not dominance, because he abruptly stopped trying to take over. 'Either that or he thinks I'm too flighty to play rough.' Picard had called him that once, and Jean-Luc still didn't know whether to be amused or enraged. Whatever the reason, the seduction worked its will on both of them. Jean-Luc was rock hard and straining when Picard broke off, excused himself and visited the head. Jean-Luc shucked his boots and clothes off, wondering if he was being overly forward, but when Picard returned a few minutes later he too was naked. They stared at each other, and Jean-Luc very pointedly did not mention the scars that marked Picard's skin. Picard noticed that he was trying not to look and he smiled crookedly. "Go ahead, you can touch them." "When I get back," Jean-Luc promised, and disappeared into the bathroom in turn. It heartened him to see that the good captain had left a set of disposable hygienic utensils within easy reach. They were the same items, even the same brand, that Jean- Luc occasionally used, and it made him feel somewhat more at ease that they were both experienced this way. When he came back Picard was lying on the bed, waiting for him. Jean-Luc wondered what he should say, but Picard forestalled any conversation by reaching up and stroking Jean-Luc's face exactly like Jean-Luc had done to him moments ago. Jean-Luc felt his heart break. The gesture was awkward, so experimental that he again felt that overwhelming rush of compassion for this companion who could have loved him if only he knew how. He picked up Picard's hand and brought it to his lips, kissing the palm, then every finger in turn. 'I love you,' he thought, but did not dare say. 'Oh, Picard, I love you so much.' Now he could hold Picard as much as he wanted. In the guise of making love to him, he stroked every part he could reach, especially the ugly scars, willing them healed. And he kissed him and kissed him until they were both dizzy with sensation. Then he rolled them both over, pulled his legs up, and asked Picard to take him. Picard made a noise that could have been assent, or could have simply been a soft moan. Jean-Luc braced himself. It hurt, and even with Picard's hand on his penis, stroking him to madness, it required a great deal of discipline not to pull away. After a short while, however, the pain faded and they rode each other like Shiva and Shakti. At one point Jean-Luc placed Picard's hand over his mouth because his cries were so loud he was embarrassed. Picard smiled down at him, drove him to the peak, then followed him over, after which he fell on top of him, panting harshly. Jean-Luc brought his hand up to gently stroke the back of Picard's head. Picard stiffened, ready to pull his armor back on. "I think you'd better go now." "Not yet," Jean-Luc whispered. "I won't leave you until you're ready, remember?" Picard gave him a hard, suspicious expression, but Jean-Luc kept his face calm, and by degrees Picard let himself relax. Jean- Luc pulled the covers up, and heard Picard sigh with relief as they settled into each others' arms. After a long moment during which neither spoke, Picard said dreamily, "It was like this with Jack, before he met Beverly." "What was?" Jean-Luc asked. His heart started to pound. Was it going to be this easy? Was afterglow the secret to getting Picard to speak of his feelings? It seemed so. Picard talked about how they'd kept their affair a secret; the things Jack said to him; how Jack had teased him about his receding hairline, helping him laugh about something that otherwise might have made him feel touchy and irritable. In a voice tight with anger and pain, he told Jean-Luc about how Jack met Beverly. "How did that make you feel," Jean-Luc asked cautiously. "I hated her at first." Picard answered. "I thought she was using him. But later, after... Jack died, she was all I had left of him." He shifted in Jean-Luc's arms, and another story came out, about an admiral who wanted Beverly for herself, about how she arranged to have Picard eliminate her competition for her, about the duel between them that allowed Picard to claim Beverly as his own. Picard was a good storyteller. As he described the hot sun and the betting crowds and the dueling knives so slippery with sweat and blood that he could scarcely keep hold of them, Jean-Luc was right there with him. He couldn't help but wonder how it felt to Beverly to be fought over, the de facto property of the winner, but he did not bring it up. Empathy was a new experience for Picard, and Jean-Luc did not want to press him. So it was that Jean-Luc finally got his wish. In bed, with his defenses as low as they ever got, and Jean-Luc's arms around him, Picard could talk about himself. It was not easy. Picard was unfamiliar with the very concept of unburdening himself, and all his instincts ran against the act of self-revelation, but Jean-Luc was gently encouraging. Slowly, he taught Picard how to talk about the events of his life, and then, how to describe his feelings towards them. It was obvious that Picard thought of this as a biography of sorts; a true story he was telling to please Jean-Luc rather than a process that had any useful effect, but it was enough that he was participating, so Jean-Luc did not try to change his perceptions. ***** Eventually the stories he told took on greater significance. They were important to Jean-Luc, so Picard was willing to share them, but for the life of him he couldn't understand why the process made him feel so queasy. Jean-Luc did not demand them as payback for their rollicking hours in bed. In fact, if the noise he made was anything to judge by, Jean-Luc enjoyed their ventures in bed as much as Picard did. "You're so loud," Picard teased, and to his delight Jean-Luc blushed deeply. "I'll try to watch myself," Jean-Luc murmured. "Don't you dare. I rather enjoy it." He put his arms around Jean-Luc and nuzzled at his skin. "And that expression on your face when you're about to come." Picard imitated it perfectly, opening his eyes wide, wrinkling his eyebrows together and letting his mouth drop open. As he suspected, Jean-Luc became even more embarrassed. "Fortunately," Picard continued teasing, "the soundproofing is more than adequate." He pretended to frown. "At least I think it is. Perhaps you should go ask the guards if they hear anything." By now Jean-Luc was looking away, smiling a little, but unable to meet Picard's eyes. Picard took him by the chin and pulled their faces together, kissing him deeply. Then he rolled Jean-Luc over onto his back and took him again. It never occurred to him that Jean-Luc might like to be on top once in a while, and even though he took care to make sure the other captain was satisfied, Picard was always the one who orchestrated their lovemaking. Despite Jean-Luc's willingness, however, Picard sensed that his control of this situation was more apparent than real. Perhaps that was why this intimacy increasingly disturbed him. If it had only been sex, he might not have felt so uneasy, but Jean-Luc gave him the added luxury of listening to him talk, an indulgence Picard never dreamed he could have. In fact, he'd never imagined anyone could actually possess such a degree of attentiveness, much less be so generous with it. Jean-Luc never set limits, never told Picard to stop, never gave any hint that he was bored (something Picard was very sensitive to). He simply listened gravely and nodded and empathized, giving Picard the priceless opportunity to unburden himself. But afterwards, there was always the guilt, the sense that he was racking up a bill he couldn't pay. The feeling of connectedness resulting from their hours in bed both lured and frightened him, and he couldn't believe it came without a cost. The fact that Jean-Luc asked for nothing but Picard's continued openness made Picard feel resentful. If Jean-Luc wouldn't say what this pleasure cost, how could Picard know what he owed in return? Well, Picard decided, he would ask him straight out: What do you want from me? ***** "What do I want from you? You mean what am I getting out of this?" Jean-Luc pulled Picard on top of him, smiling. "Had you ever made love to yourself before?" Picard accepted the invitation of Jean-Luc's welcoming arms, but his smile was slightly pained. "Is that really what we're doing?" Later, Jean-Luc shook Picard awake, kissed him goodbye and returned to his own universe. The one time he'd left Picard sleeping, Picard had been infuriated. Jean-Luc was beginning to understand. From Picard's point of view it looked like betrayal. It was one thing to be vulnerable in the arms of a doppelganger who loved you, but it was unthinkably dangerous to be left alone in that state of defenselessness. Jean-Luc liked to think that Picard slept better in his arms than anywhere else, but even though he knew that was his ego getting in the way of his common sense, sometimes he stayed with Picard long after he should have returned, because he was unwilling to wake him. 'Perhaps I really am a fool,' he thought to himself. Back on his own ship, with time flowing around him normally again, he rested. Subjectively he lived a twenty-seven hour day when he was with Picard, and if he didn't consciously relax once he was back on his Enterprise, he became high-strung and fatigued. With that in mind, he went down to the steamroom and simmered himself for a long time, thinking about Picard's question. His immediate response was that he, personally, got little or nothing out of the experience except the possibility that Picard would live and redeem his universe. The sex was amazingly good, but he'd never forgotten that the stakes were that universe's very existence. It was so unreal to him sometimes. Billions of people he'd never know would cease to exist of he didn't get through to Picard. Jean-Luc straightened, thinking about the absurdity of the situation. Could this really be? Was he even remotely capable of taking on a project of this magnitude, or was this simple hubris? The actions of a deluded lunatic tilting at windmills? He wished Q would come back so he could talk with him, and perhaps divine whether this was only one of Q's elaborate games. Now that was a switch, he thought wryly, *wanting* Q to appear. ***** Q was sick with jealousy. They were having sex, sharing intimacy human-style. Now Picard was opening himself up in a manner Jean-Luc found highly significant, and Jean-Luc was extremely contented with the course of their relationship. 'I hate them both,' he decided. He wanted to lash out and hurt them, but he refrained from harming his Jean-Luc. He could and did stack the deck against Picard however... ***** Picard's next mission was a routine inspection of loyalty, routinely disguised as a courtesy call. Picard, Troi and Riker beamed down to Tarsus to speak to the governor, listen to any complaints (which would be ignored), hear any offers of bribes (which would be considered), and generally accept his hospitality for a few days while nosing around his capital city looking for traitors. Picard had done his research, of course, and looked forward to this visit. Tarsus was one of the most stable of the Empire's holdings; any problems would be easily corrected. Of minor interest to him was the fact that one of his sisters lived here. He hadn't seen her since his last visit, thirty years ago. They didn't correspond, which suited him--they had little, if anything, to say to one another. He was surprised therefore, to discover that she figured prominently in the unease that the governor tried to hide. The moment he materialized he could feel it, a general free-floating anxiety which centered around the governor and his retinue. He said nothing. Troi felt it also and he sensed her already starting to probe. He then sensed her sudden shock and a nervousness that bordered on embarrassment, but she did not intrude on his thoughts to tell him what she'd discovered. He shot her a cold glance, and she lowered her eyes, beginning a mental obeisance in the face of his anger and suspicion. The governor was reintroducing his household, his sons; his first wife; his second wife, Picard's honored sister; his third wife. Picard nodded stiffly. There was no way to miss the sudden spike of anxiety when his sister's name was mentioned. 'Now what?' he thought in irritation. Anne-Marie was considered the dullard of all the girls in the family. She was pretty enough, but there was none of the sparkling intelligence, the wit, the zest of his oldest two sisters. The family had been amazed when a scout for the Governor had picked her for the position of his second wife. It was an extremely respectable status. Picard had been of the private opinion that they were sending his sister off to an abrupt and ignominious death. After all, if she wasn't going to be cannon fodder for some internal politicking inside the governor's household, what advantage was there to marrying her? Still, it wasn't really his concern, and he'd sat with the rest of his family at her wedding, casually placing bets with himself about which, of all the wives and concubines, would come out the winner in the ensuing harem fight. It was a small point of surprise, therefore, that she was still alive and thriving thirty years later. She seemed well, her elaborate gown trailing out behind her in current Tarsus fashion, her face heavily painted. She held out her hand and he took it and bowed over it and would have thought nothing of it's brittle thinness except the governor's fear escalated so suddenly that Picard knew something was amiss. He looked suspiciously into his sister's face and she gazed back at him, her features bland. Her mind was calm and untroubled and he schooled his own features to stillness, noticing for the first time that her gown did not quite hide her gauntness, and that of all the women she was the most heavily made up. 'Disguising an illness,' he thought with mild startlement. But why should they think that made any difference to him? She'd been given away a long time ago and no longer really mattered to him, if she ever had once he'd been sent away to school. Still, as a token of the esteem in which his family name was held, it was gratifying to know he warranted this much fear and worry. The governor's tension seemed to ease somewhat after the reintroduction took place without incident. He took Jean-Luc and Deanna on a tour of the new wing of his palace, obviously relaxing into his role as host now that the potential crisis had been defused. That night, as he expected, Picard got a summons from his sister. "Thank you for coming." She started in without preamble. "I know that of all the girls I'm considered the stupid one, so I suppose that gives me the right to say this." She smiled at him. "I'm dying, and I'll probably never see you again, so I want to tell you about what happened that night." That was the thing about brothers and sisters, Picard thought. There was a shorthand to their communication, one of shared experiences and understandings that allowed for instant comprehension despite the intervening years. 'That night' could only mean one thing; the day his nurse died, and all the joy in his life had withered into a single facet--his duty to advance his family name. He did not wish to talk about it, and shot Anne-Marie a withering glance. Beverly and Deanna would have been instantly cowed, but Anne-Marie saw both child and man and knew the scowl for the defense it was. She ignored him in a way that was actually somewhat refreshing after the groveling deference that usually greeted him at every turn. "After dinner," she began, "I went upstairs to give Janet one of the posties I'd saved." Anne-Marie's nurse pacified her charge with candy, posties being a favorite. His mind went far back, remembering how he'd always wheedled and bribed to get her to part with some. Picard felt a surge of irrational jealousy to hear that Anne-Marie had cared enough to try and comfort Janet. It meant Janet had probably cared for Anne-Marie also--she hadn't been exclusively his. "I was in her room when father came upstairs, so I ran and hid in the closet." Again this needed no explaining. All the children avoided papa as much as possible. One of his earliest childhood memories was of learning how to case a room for available hiding places in case he heard his father's heavy step draw near. The worst thing was when an older brother or sister beat him to the best hiding place and he got pushed out and had to scramble to find another as the steps grew closer and closer... He felt his chest tighten as Anne-Marie described crawling into that closet. He was instantly back there with her, the darkness wrapped around him, protecting him as he shrank back as far as he could and peeked out to see what was happening. It was in that state of breathless fear that he listened to Anne-Marie describe Janet's murder; their father's hands around her throat, the soft click that was her neck snapping, the way he'd eased her lifeless body onto the bed, pulled the tieback from the curtain, strung her up with it. "I didn't know what to do, Johnny," she inadvertently used the name he'd given up a long time ago, but he didn't bother to correct her. "Now I know I was in shock, but at the time all I could think of was to keep hiding in case he should look around for someone else to kill. I was still sitting in the closet when he brought you in and told you she'd abandoned you." Anne-Marie smiled. "The funny thing was, I thought she really *had* abandoned you. I thought she could come back if she wanted, but was just hanging there to spite papa." She shrugged and looked down. "Anyway, I know you think I'm stupid to tell you this, and I probably am, but somehow I wanted you to know..." she trailed off, apology clear on her face and in her mind. "Indeed," Picard responded coldly. "Next time I wish you'd give me some warning before using me as your confessor." He didn't want this information, not now, not ever, so he clung to the one fact that made sense to him. "What are you dying from?" "Pagh'ught." Picard caught his breath. "My doctor is one of the finest in Starfleet." Anne-Marie opened her mouth to object but shut it again as he sent for Beverly and her medical tricorder. "You have a patient," he told her when she beamed down. He jerked his head in Anne-Marie's direction, but Anne-Marie shook her head. "Pagh'ught," she repeated, and Beverly's face shuttered. Picard could feel her shrug of dismissal, but it was followed by a trait he knew he could expect from her; her restless mind turning over and over the possibility that there was a cure and she would find it. "Save her," he grated, knowing as he said so that he was asking for the impossible. "Jean-Luc, I've had a good life," Anne-Marie said to him. "And admit it." She grinned at him, "You never expected me to live past my wedding night." Picard smiled wryly. "True." "Neither did I, truth be told." She sobered. "And here I am thirty years later..." "If someone infected you with this I will find them and make them pay." It was the only thing he could offer, but Anne-Marie shook her head again. "Issak was terrified that you would tear his house apart looking for the traitor. He's already killed two of his doctors, by way of an offering to you. I told him you wouldn't care, but he insisted." She frowned slightly. "I've thought and thought about this, and no one profits if I'm killed. It may have been a natural occurrence." Picard nodded again. He'd been wondering the same thing. "It was natural," Beverly agreed. "Susceptibility to pagh'ught is caused by environmental factors on Tarsus and builds up over time. It can't be induced." Picard dismissed Beverly who departed with a certain amount of relief. 'What is it,' he wondered peevishly, 'that makes people so squeamish when family members die? It's only one sister, after all.' "Who else knows?" He meant who of their surviving brothers and sisters, which she understood. "No one. Don't bother them." He nodded. It was awkward enough between the two of them. No use involving the rest of the family. "Well," he shrugged. There was nothing more to say. Anne- Marie gave him a smile that had forgiveness and benediction in it, but Picard ignored it as he turned and walked out. That night he woke up screaming. Beverly and Deanna had scrambled to the edge of the bed and were staring at him with shocked expressions. "Go back to sleep," he told them. They obediently lay down again, but he could feel their tension and vigilance as they pretended to relax. It was a very long night. ****** 'Take that!' Q thought viciously. ****** -- From!!!!not-for-mail Thu Oct 24 07:41:48 1996 Path:!!!!not-for-mail From: (Jeanita) Newsgroups: alt.startrek.creative,alt.startrek.creative.erotica Subject: NEW: The Best of All Possible Worlds 4/4 (NC17) Date: 24 Oct 1996 08:04:34 -0400 Organization: Capital PC User Group, Inc., Rockville, Maryland, USA Lines: 711 Message-ID: <54nm0i$> NNTP-Posting-Host: Xref: alt.startrek.creative:46718 alt.startrek.creative.erotica:4482 The Best of All Possible Worlds Jeanita Danzik Part 4/4 See part 1 for disclaimers ****** The next time Jean-Luc came, Picard pushed him onto the bed without preamble and took him hard. "You could have at least said 'please'," Jean-Luc panted when Picard was done. "Shut up." "That was rape. I won't allow it to happen again." "I said SHUT UP!" He raised his hand, but before he could swing, Jean-Luc had him by the throat. "Stop, Johnny." And Johnny stopped. "Where'd you learn to do that?" Picard coughed. He appeared utterly unrepentant. "From you," Jean-Luc muttered. He eyed Picard warily, but there were no more attacks. But Captain Picard had been pushed to his limits. He didn't like to be afraid, and if he was rough with Jean-Luc, he was insane with Deanna and Beverly. ***** Beverly hadn't known that the patient she'd seen on Tarsus was Picard's sister. When he woke her and Deanna up with his screaming she'd guessed that the woman's imminent death affected him strongly, but it had taken Deanna's midnight whisper that she was his sister to make the pieces to fall into place for her. Beverly didn't answer back. They'd discovered that Deanna could whisper to her in the darkness after Jean-Luc had fallen asleep, but Beverly still had no interest in talking to the counselor or interacting with her in any way. Jean-Luc could well punish her if he read Deanna's mind and saw that they'd been talking. Her position was no more precarious for Jean-Luc's having taken Deanna, but she still didn't like Deanna and she didn't want to take any chances. Beverly still hadn't figured out how Jean-Luc had acquired telepathic power though obviously he'd managed somehow. All those headaches he'd been having lately were the result of trauma to that part of the human brain that was active in telepaths. Neuron activity there had increased several thousand fold. It was much more active than Deanna's, which would explain why he was able to disarm the counselor so thoroughly. And that was the other good reason to stay away from Deanna. Ever since their visit to Tarsus, Picard was beginning to take a special enjoyment out of torturing his former nemesis, and Beverly didn't want his attention to shift focus. All too often Deanna had taken advantage of her position as an Intelligence operative to force Picard to endure her small insults and disobediences. Now that the tables had turned, he was obviously making her pay for her temerity. In the days after she learned of his sister's imminent death, Beverly watched with alarm as Jean-Luc's behavior became more and more eccentric. For some odd reason, he'd always had a pronounced distaste for physical abuse. Now, however, he seemed to have overcome his abhorrence. He never hit Beverly, but his savagery towards Deanna built in swells, each one slightly higher than the last. And it wasn't the inflating violence that was so nauseating as much as the deliberation with which he took his pleasure. If he'd simply lost his temper and struck her as a result of work pressures or some outer frustration they might have been able to stand it, but Jean-Luc hurt her calmly and methodically, carefully assessing the effect of each blow so he would be more effective the next time. Beverly quietly stashed medikits in various corners of their quarters. Sometimes Deanna was incapable of moving from wherever she'd collapsed after one of their little sessions, so Beverly tried to take care of her with as little fuss as possible. Often she was sickened by the damage, but it never occurred to her to interfere. The rage on Jean-Luc's face was astonishing. He'd always been able to control his temper; she supposed he was doing so now, letting it out in measured bursts of brutality, focusing on a specific target... She couldn't for the life of her understand why. He never mentioned his family, and she knew they didn't mean that much to him. Why should his sister's death affect him so? ***** Picard didn't know why he liked to hurt Deanna so much, but he needed it for the way it allowed him to maintain a feeling of calm. In bed, curled around Jean-Luc, he had a secret place where he did secret things, and they frightened him more and more as time passed. It was obscene, confessing himself to Jean-Luc--the act both irresistible and repugnant at once, and he needed a way to relieve the pressure of feeling alienated from himself. Deanna was useful for that. Hurting her, he could repudiate his growing estrangement from himself. The counselor wanted to die. She was going insane, he knew, because he laughed at her and kept such a tight lock on her that she had no volition to do herself harm. He had plenty, however, and he indulged it freely. It eased some turbulence in him to see her cowering. When Deanna trembled before him, actually sick with fear, the calm place inside him grew, as if he were making her feel the emotions he refused to feel for himself. Over time, however, he needed more and more of her pain and terror in order to feel any relief. He began to regulate himself, varying the scope and intensity of his little sessions with her so he could keep feeding on her emotions for as long as possible. 'I'm addicted to her suffering,' he told himself. The unease that he always felt at the idea of depending on anyone would grip him again and he would stop for a few days or a week, only to find himself fantasizing about all the different ways he knew of hurting her. When he thought of a new way to torture her, he would smile all the way back to his quarters, and his rising excitement would make him almost gleeful. "Guess what we're going to do today, Deanna?" He greeted her with enthusiasm, holding out two hand agonizers. Dimly, he could feel Beverly's relief. She'd sensed this was coming and had been waiting for it, he realized, though why she should care he didn't know. Inside his rooms Deanna had no dignity left. She backed away, whimpering, and he followed slowly, talking to her like she was a small child. "Today we're going to play a game with Mister agonizer. This one is mine. It's on full setting. This one is yours. It's on half setting. Take your agonizer, Deanna." She did not refuse, she simply couldn't bring herself to reach out and take it, which Picard had known. He allowed himself to get angry. "Don't you want to play? Very well, then I'll just have to play by myself. Get up." He grabbed her by the hair and threw her across the bed. She lay curled in on herself, but his strength was such that he could easily secure her arms and legs to the shackles at the corners of the bed. He was breathing heavily by the time he was done. "Very bad girl, Deanna. Do you know what happens to bad girls?" He gagged her, then he demonstrated while her muffled screams reverberated through the cabin. He took his time with his pleasures, starting with her feet, moving up the back of one leg, then the other, then her fingers, her underarms, one eye but not the other, her breasts. By the time he reached her clitoris she was shaking uncontrollably, drenched with sweat, laying in a pool of her own urine. Methodical as ever, Picard parted her labia, pulled back the clitoral hood then smiled up at her before bringing the agonizer down full strength against the exposed stalk of nerve. Deanna didn't scream. Her body was too busy absorbing all the pain messages to spare the breath for sound. There was so much backlash that Picard actually winced, but that didn't prevent his reveling in her agony. Deanna convulsed and blacked out. Picard withdrew the agonizer, obviously disappointed. "Shall we eat?" He asked Beverly. They sat down at the dining table where she followed his lead, chitchatting idly. When low moans came from the bedroom Picard pretended not to hear them, and as he expected, Beverly followed suit. He could feel that she was nearly hysterical with horror at what she'd just witnessed, but was restraining her tears and her anger. Finally Picard didn't feel like ignoring her any longer. "Deanna killed your son and I know you hate her," he pointed out over coffee. "Why should you care what I do to her?" "I don't like to watch." Beverly offered quietly. Picard smiled. "It's good for you." Beverly said nothing. He could feel her struggling to find a way to handle the revulsion she felt at being forced to witness Deanna's torture. She truly had a very endearing personality. That night he took her to bed and made love to her very tenderly, pleased to note that she'd lost her embarrassment over being taken in front of another person. She seemed to feel nothing anymore, and that bothered him a little, but not enough for him to want to investigate. ***** Q watched Picard torture Deanna and forced himself to maintain control. He watched Beverly, white-faced and nauseated, going through the motions of eating dinner with Picard. He watched Deanna whimpering and trembling as she cleaned herself. She changed the filthy sheets then crawled into a corner of the bed, gibbering a prayer to the Mothers. She had absolutely no hope that They would hear or answer or do anything but laugh at her predicament, but it allowed her to hang on to her shredding sanity a while longer. Her mind was breaking, but strangely, of all three of them, he felt sorriest for Picard. Loathsome, twisted being that he was, he was most truly estranged from himself and would break the most easily because of it. And having clawed his way to the top of his little ersatz paradise, he had the most to lose. Well, perhaps it was time to intervene. He put Deanna and Beverly into a deep sleep and flashed into the room. Picard awakened instantly. "Jean-Luc?" He reached out a hand and Q was shocked at how gentle his touch could be. "No, not quite." Picard recoiled. "What do you want? Where's Jean-Luc?" "Jean-Luc is asleep, and as for what I want, I should be the one asking you that question. You've wanted me here, with you instead of with him. Well, here I am." "Ah yes, the great Q. Are you really as powerful as Jean-Luc thinks?" "Yes." Jean-Luc had a fairly good grasp of Q's abilities, but Q knew he hadn't shared any of his knowledge with Picard, despite considerable pressure to do so. "Do you still want power as badly as you once did?" Picard smiled. This was a game he knew well. "Of course, but what does one do with an immortal who does what it wants?" "Well for one thing, one listens. Jean-Luc is wearing himself out trying to help you and I'm tired of it." "You can take care of that," Picard countered. Q brightened, giving Picard an expression of smug triumph. "Good idea." He snapped his fingers. "Now Jean-Luc can't come back anymore. It's just you and me, Picard." Despite his best efforts to prevent it, tears prickled in Picard's chest and his throat grew tight. "Awww, how touching. Poor Picard only has two people to rape and terrorize instead of three." Q was extremely annoyed with himself for not anticipating that ugly little incident. Picard cleared his throat. "He knows what he means to me." "In fact he doesn't. He's never been more uncertain in his life." This was not exactly a lie, but it was certainly a misdirection. Actually, Jean-Luc had a very good idea of what he meant to Picard. He just didn't know whether he was having any effect. "Then why the exercise?" Picard found himself somewhat peeved on Jean-Luc's behalf. "Don't you care whether he's disappointed or not? This means everything to him but you're going to do whatever you want, regardless of what he says, aren't you?" In fact, Q meant to take Jean-Luc's recommendation very seriously. He was happy that Picard had misread his intentions. 'Because maybe that means we're not that much alike after all,' he comforted himself. The truth was, he was worried about Jean-Luc. His health was strained and resist it though he might, he was sliding towards depression. This long lonely rescue mission was burning him out, but having been goaded into continuing, he intended to see this through to the end, no matter what it cost him personally. "Why are you doing this to him?" Picard demanded when Q did not answer. "You don't know him." Q answered. "If I hadn't let him do this, he would have brooded about it to his dying day." ***** Picard missed Jean-Luc. "Irritating, self-righteous little meddler," he muttered to himself. It didn't help. He hadn't realized what a steadying influence Jean-Luc's presence was. That core of moral certainty had driven him up a wall, and he hadn't realized how reassuring it was, or how much he'd come to lean on it. Picard did not care about ethics, or the difference between right and wrong. With Jean-Luc around there was a part of him that could and did care, but now that part was gone and he was disoriented by its absence. He especially missed lying in bed and talking with him though he didn't like to admit it. It had happened again, he realized with a feeling of dread. Jean-Luc's presence filled a need he had not known he had, and now, like a junkie, he was going through painful withdrawal. "Are you alright?" Beverly asked him timidly. He looked at his behavior from her point of view, thinking, 'Ah, Jean-Luc, you taught me how to do that.' He thought about his long, brooding silences of late. "My behavior has doubtless seemed somewhat erratic," he began, and was enraged at the wholehearted agreement she carefully kept off her face. "No I'm not alright," he snapped, "but one would think that with a doctor and a counselor living in my quarters I should be. Wouldn't one?" "I'm sorry," she whispered, and backed away. 'I will miss him," Picard consoled himself, 'then eventually I will stop missing him. And life will go on.' And life did. Except that he was in constant pain. He even left Deanna alone, knowing that nothing he could do would relieve his sense of incompleteness. ***** 'Damnit Q, where are you?' Jean-Luc thought for about the thousandth time. He'd awakened one morning without any of the abilities Q had given him, and he had no way to get in touch with Picard. He wondered if the ISS Captain would feel abandoned, and he worried about him. Was he even now fighting with Q? 'At least that would mean he was still alive,' he consoled himself. 'Just let me know what happened.' He would have begged Q if he thought it would do any good, but he knew it wouldn't, so he endured his uncertainty as best he could. ***** Q had decided to finish Jean-Luc's work for him. He'd taken Jean-Luc away from Picard shortly after Picard had raped him, but this project was too near completion for any of them to stop now. He was surprised that Jean-Luc wasn't angry with Picard for accosting him, but Q was, and he stepped in to run things Q-style. That he had no idea what to do next, or what effect his meddling would have, didn't bother him in the slightest. He was Q. He would work it out. He remembered telling Jean-Luc that he wasn't a social worker, but now he took on that role with cheerful abandon, zeroing in on Picard. "I'm taking you on a trip," Q announced brightly, smirking at Picard's startled annoyance. He could get under Picard's skin in ways Jean-Luc wouldn't have thought of. "I know you miss Jean-Luc, so I'm going to help you." "You're going to take me to see him?" Picard could have cursed himself for the eagerness in his voice. Q, of course, noticed at once and shook his head in mock regret. "Unfortunately for you that would be 'no', but I will take you to see his life." "I've seen his life," Picard objected. His disappointment was obvious, no matter how he tried to hide it. He wanted to say 'Give him back or leave us both alone,' but he assumed Q knew how he felt, so he said nothing. "Ah, but you haven't seen *all* of his life." Q smiled. "Haven't you been curious about the parts he's kept from you?" Picard nodded listlessly. He *had* wondered about Jean-Luc's experiences as Captain, but he'd been too busy sleeping with him and talking about himself to act on his curiosity. "Well," Q's wicked satisfaction was all too apparent, "now I'm going to show you the rest." ***** That night Picard found himself sitting up in bed, sweating and gasping while his women staring at him wide-eyed. "What?" He demanded. "What is it?" "Four lights," Beverly whispered into the semi-darkness. "You said, 'There are *four* lights.'" Picard had dreamed that Jean-Luc, dressed like a Borg, had been tied to a frame and tortured by Cardassians. He rubbed his face with both hands. It had been no dream for Jean-Luc. Those things really happened to him. 'And he never told me,' Picard thought. He brooded on this for a few moments, then he noted that Beverly was watching him with a trace of that clinical interest she wore when she was caring for a patient. She had carefully schooled all sympathy off her face but was staring at him intently. Deanna simply looked numb and Picard promised himself that he wouldn't start torturing her again. She was getting too frightened to be effective at her job, and he didn't feel like looking for another ship's counselor at the moment. That had nothing to do with his immediate dilemma, however. He'd seen his counterpart holding on to his sanity by sheer force of will after the Borg converted him. He'd seen him defiantly asserting the truth of his reality in the face of the Gul's attempt to break his mind. He'd felt how Jean-Luc's rage had been a source of strength, feeding his determination to stay whole under the Cardassian's torture. That's not what Picard would have done. In Jean-Luc's place he would have promptly agreed that there were five lights, then he would have offered to submit himself to the Gul and waited for an opportunity to offer treachery in return for torture. He wholeheartedly disagreed with Jean-Luc's tactics, but he could not help but understand his motives. And that was the problem. He didn't want to understand Jean-Luc's motives because the more he understood the more he came to respect this counter-self, and the more he was attracted to what he represented. Jean-Luc. Jean-Luc Picard. Picard said the name silently. 'I can't be like you.' His double was too pure, too clean, too... whole; attributes Picard scorned even as he grieved the loss of the individual's presence. 'I would if I could,' he told the absent man, 'but I can't. I can't be you *and* me.' He noticed that Deanna and Beverly were still watching him warily. "Go back to sleep," he muttered. Deanna promptly lay down again, but Beverly put a hand out to him. "Jean-Luc, maybe I should give you something to help you sleep better. You'll still dream, but they won't rise to the surface of your conscious mind." Scanning her thoughts, he could see she really meant him no harm, but he didn't want to be able to ignore his dreams; they were too important. "Go to sleep," he repeated. Beverly knew better than to contradict him a second time. She lay down and pretended to sleep, but Picard could feel her mind chasing itself down blind alleys, looking for reasons why his behavior should suddenly become so increasingly erratic. An impulse he couldn't explain made him pull her close and bury his face in her hair. Beverly stiffened fearfully, but Jean-Luc ignored her and eventually she relaxed. He could smell the lingering scent of her perfume, and as he breathed it in he had to viciously suppress the urge to start crying. ***** Beverly thought carefully about Picard's increasingly strange behavior. She remembered that when Deanna first moved into Picard's rooms, his standing orders were that both women should come straight to his quarters when they got off shift. Then, abruptly, he told them to wait until he summoned them, spending his afternoons alone. Things stayed that way for a long time. They didn't know what he did in there by himself, but Beverly suspected he beamed in a lover. It was the only explanation she could think of. He was often in his robe when they were finally allowed in, freshly showered, with an aura of nervous gratification, as if he'd just been let in on a clever secret. He never talked about it at all, and that made Beverly wonder. What did he do with that person that he was unwilling to ask of her and Deanna? The thought made her shudder. Now, apparently, the affair was over. His afternoons were free again and he was miserable. He screamed in his sleep, he did not work, he did not eat, and Beverly was worried. Sooner or later, someone would notice his lethargic demeanor and figure that he'd lost his edge. Then they would make a move on him, and if he was taken out, she would either lose her status as Captain's woman or be killed right along with him. She had a plan to prevent that, and it could very well work, but she needed Deanna's cooperation. She spent several days quaking with fear of what he would do if he found out, then self-preservation prompted her to act. She and Deanna still did not speak to each other very much, but they had developed an understanding based on mutual self- interest. Steeling herself, she left sickbay one afternoon and walked to Deanna's office. The counselor raised her eyes with an arrogant expression on her face, but as soon as she saw who it was her masquerade vanished and she slumped into her chair. "I need your help," Beverly began. She explained her theory that Picard was clinically depressed and needed help. "I want to start him on antidepressants, but he won't let me near him." Deanna was already shaking her head, terror crossing her features. Beverly sighed. "I can't go to anyone else. All I need is voice authorization to change the replicator program in his quarters. We're both senior officers; we could do it without being noticed." "He'll find out." Deanna whispered. "We have to take that chance. You've seen how he is these days. What if someone makes a move on him? What happens to us?" Deanna nodded. She, too, recognized the signs of depression in him, and she'd seen Riker eyeing him shrewdly. Will would jump at the chance to move up. He'd take Deanna for his own, which would be good, but Picard had seen to it that Will didn't have enough backing. If he did manage to kill Picard it would throw the ship into chaos as everyone fought to reposition themselves, cementing and betraying allegiances in a protracted battle for control. Deanna knew she didn't have the strength to hold her own in the free-for-all, and it went without saying that somebody somewhere would want vengeance for what she'd done to them. The very idea of going behind Picard's back made her feel ill, and she didn't even want to think about what he would do if he caught them, but she'd developed a pronounced distaste for political carnage. She could barely endure Picard's particular brand of madness; to be subjected to the mental pummelling of a ship full of combatants was simply too much to bear. There was only one problem. "What about...?" she pointed to her head. "I thought he didn't do that to you anymore." "If I'm thinking about him too much he'll know it and wonder why." In fact, she only dared participate in this conversation because these past few weeks of being ignored had allowed her to begin to reconstruct her shields. "Let me hypnotize you," Beverly suggested. "To help keep you from thinking about it." Deanna's heart was pounding. This was so frightening she wanted to cry. It wouldn't have been worth the bother except Beverly was the doctor and Deanna didn't want to anger her. Living with Picard, Deanna was sure to need her services again. ***** Picard would have never suspected anything was amiss. He attributed his improved temperament to his natural ability to bounce back from adversity and thought no more of it. It was Beverly's professional pride that gave it away. It so happened that one evening, when the three of them were off shift, he got a feeling from her of satisfaction followed by a flare of nervous tension. He was so used to thinking of her as harmless that it never occurred to him that such a particular combination of emotions might bode ill for him. Then, in bed and falling asleep, it dawned on him that those feelings had been growing in intensity for several days. He turned, fixing her with an angry glare. Her satisfaction turned to panic, then hysteria, and it turned so quickly that for a moment Picard himself was paralyzed by her fear. The moment didn't last long. He punched his way into her mind, immediately discovering that Beverly had been doping his food with antidepressants. And Deanna knew about it and hadn't told him. Indeed, had helped her do it. He turned his attention to the Counselor who immediately started to grovel. Betrayed and exposed, Picard allowed his old friend Rage to engulf him. "I will kill you both," he threatened, and was stunned to feel relief surge into Beverly's thoughts. Amazed, he invaded her mind again, feeling her massive capitulation on even the idea of continuing to live. She'd had enough. She was so tired of being afraid that she was giving up, absolutely and totally, and she was happy about it. The thought, 'At least this will all be over,' was emblazoned across her mind as clear as day. Deanna, too, was engulfed by a sense of fatalism and weary relief. She'd gambled and lost. So be it. That broke him. He jumped out of bed, screaming Q's name, demanding that the entity come right now. This was utterly unendurable and he would not take another minute of it. He simply *had* to show up and do something. "Q," he screamed again. He ignored Beverly and Deanna who had managed to stuff themselves into the corner by his bed and were clinging to each other in terror. Picard felt utterly traumatized by what he saw in their minds. That they would be *happy* to die because it meant they would no longer have to live with him! That they would look forward to death with such overwhelming relief! "I didn't mean to do that to them," he cried. From long ago he remembered a playmate's dead puppy, and the boy's genuine confusion and sadness. Who knew puppies died when dropped off a roof? He hadn't meant to kill it; he'd only been playing. "Q, come *now*, damnit," he screamed. "*You* set this up, you finish it one way or another! Do you hear me? It can't be me that did that to them. Do you hear? It can't be me!" ***** Q heard Picard's spiraling hysteria, yanked Jean-Luc off the USS Enterprise and rushed into Picard's quarters. He was met by bedlam. Beverly was screaming in fear, Picard was raging and crying, Jean-Luc began yelling at Q to get him calmed down and Q, unprepared for the buffeting emotions that confronted him at every turn, could only stare about himself helplessly. He'd set Picard up to experience something like this, but now that it was happening, he needed Jean-Luc to see him through it. He'd snatched the sleeping captain out of his bed without so much as a by-your- leave because Jean-Luc would know what to do while Q hadn't the foggiest notion of how to proceed. "Get them out of here," Jean-Luc yelled to Q. He pointed to the two women. "Uh, okay." Q snapped his fingers and now there was only one other person in the room besides Jean-Luc and he was weeping. 'No,' Jean-Luc corrected, 'he's screaming.' Prostrate, helpless, hands pressed to his temples, Picard gave vent to his hopelessness in loud, keening wails. He could only think of one thing that might save him, and that was to cling to Jean-Luc and not let go. "Mon pauvre petit," Jean-Luc crooned. He could have given into the embarrassment he felt at lying on the floor with a full- grown man wrapped around his body, but he ignored it. Instead he comforted Picard as best he could; holding him, rocking him as much as he could be rocked, letting him cry all he needed to. They were there on the floor for a long time. "I can't, I can't," Picard could barely get the words out, hiccuping between sobs. "I can't be like you," he finally choked out. "Oh, no." Jean-Luc groaned. He'd done this. Q had been right. In trying to help he had only hurt this man more. He held on to Picard tightly, and after a while he was able to coax him up onto the bed with him. Picard could barely move, he was that broken and helpless. He let Jean-Luc get him into bed and under the covers where he cried until he fell asleep. ***** Finally, when all was quiet, Q reappeared beside the bed. "What did you do with the women?" Jean-Luc whispered to him. "They're in Beverly's room." Q answered. "I didn't know where else to take them, so we waited in there." "Then they heard?" "Yes." That was good. They'd understand that Picard was unwell. Jean-Luc had to smile at that. As if they hadn't known already. Then he sighed. They all needed to sit down and talk, that much was clear, but there was one thing he needed to do right now. "Forgive me, Q. I was wrong." "I tried to tell you, mon capitaine, but would you listen?" Q snapped his fingers and before Jean-Luc could protest, he was back on the USS Enterprise, sound asleep again. ***** After the immediate crisis was over, Q took charge as if he'd known what to do all along. "I'm taking Deanna," he announced to Picard. "You won't see her again for a long, long time, if ever." Picard scowled. He didn't love Deanna, or even like her, but she belonged to him, and he didn't like to lose his posessions. He knew Q would sense his sudden pang at the thought of her absence, but he would not allow himself to express it. If Q wanted him to show his feelings he'd have to beg for it. It was how the game was played. They could both feel her flare of hope, savagely suppressed so as not to draw attention to herself. She waited patiently for whatever would happen next, long out of the habit of deciding her own fate. "Say goodbye," Q prompted. Neither human spoke. Q sighed. These people were so troublesome. Alone with her in a shuttlecraft, Q did something he'd wanted to do for a long time. He put his arm around her gently and kissed her on the forehead. When she merely endured it, like she endured all attention forced her way, he acknowledged that she was far beyond what he could do for her. He might have snapped his fingers, undoing every memory she had of her time with Picard, but something told him that wasn't the best course. She mostly wanted to be left alone, so Q found some healers on a Deltan world and asked them to take care of her. They would not only give her the time and space she needed to get better, they would show her a new way of relating to her telepathy that did not automatically involve taking advantage of people. After he dropped her off, he ran back to Jean-Luc. "I don't understand why I shouldn't just erase her memories," he complained. He was truly confused now. He'd followed his instincts automatically, but he didn't understand why he had them. Jean-Luc sat down very close to Q. He'd committed the unthinkable, taking the day off to deal with his feelings. Now he was glad he'd done so. "Remember when I couldn't kill Hugh the Borg? It's called empathy, Q." "You're saying I have empathy?" Somehow he didn't think so. "I'm saying that's what you're allowing that other Deanna to develop." Q was flustered. "I have to go now." "Wait!" Jean-Luc's voice held a trace of panic. "Whatever you do, let me say goodbye to him." "Later," Q answered, and disappeared. ***** Picard was waiting for him when he returned. "So," Picard asked without a trace of fear, "are you going to kill me or not?" He should have known. In any universe Picard would always undermine his control. He'd visited others; walked up, smirking, to Professor Picard, only to be greeted with a kindly, welcoming smile; taunted the drug addict and received benediction in return. Even this one, the harshest, most unhappy Picard of them all, could still surprise him with his insight and his cornered rat's instincts. In the time it took to deliver Deanna to the Deltans, Picard had pulled on all his armor and was content to have it in place again. Q was happy too, knowing he could freely despise this Picard, and freely learn from him. Picard saw Q's knowing smile, misunderstood it, and struck at him. "You're jealous because he's been here first, aren't you?" "You're totally despicable," Q responded. "I told him there was no use trying to reform you. All you did was use him." "And it worked. You're here, aren't you?" Oh, he was very good. "You're very sure of yourself for a man on trial." Picard smiled. "But I'm not on trial. You would never dare hurt me." His smile became more mocking. "You'll never be able to trust me, Q. You know I'm greedy and unscrupulous. Damaged emotionally, a spiritual cripple." He leaned in close to Q as he listed his flaws. "And you know what?" He asked shrewdly. "I'm the closest you'll ever get to what you really want." He opened his arms in a mocking imitation of welcome. "Take me because I'm easier." His mouth twisted into a knowing leer. "A straight cock- for-cash whore. Or should we *both* lie to him about how we've reformed? How we're better people for his intervention." Q stared at him, at an absolute loss for what to do. He would have liked to hurt this fiend, but they both knew he couldn't. Picard was right about one thing; he wore his awareness of his imperfections like a coat of many colors. Impossible to miss, and once you knew the man like Q did, impossible to condemn. He was, in his own warped way, as whole and perfect as Jean-Luc was. He'd had the strength to compare himself to Q's Johnny, to face his own hideousness, to grieve it utterly yet leave it intact because in this universe he knew he had no other choice. This was partially Jean-Luc's fault. Q'd watched as Jean-Luc loved this person back to a semblance of wholeness, giving unstintingly and demanding nothing in return. Because Jean-Luc's ethical framework wouldn't allow him to take anything in return, Q realized; noblesse oblige rearing it's patronizing, duty-bound little head. Jean-Luc certainly had his blind spots, especially the way he always assumed that everyone would live up to their highest potential given the opportunity. He was right more often than he knew, but not in every case, and certainly not now. Underestimating the sheer cruelty of Picard's reality, he only knew how much he wanted Picard to be healed, and like Kirk before him, blindly trusted that one man could change a universe. 'But why not?' Q wondered, and before he had a chance to ask himself what he thought he was doing, he opened his mouth and changed Picard's life. "How would you like to be Emperor?" "Your puppet?" Picard sneered. "My puppet," Q agreed. This Picard was very refreshing in the way he always assumed the worst. In his mind he heard Jean-Luc's desperate demand: 'How can you not want to help them change... why can't you help me help him?' Well maybe he could. "Jean-Luc thinks you can transform this place for the better and I agree. With my help you can fix this miserable toilet of a universe. You want power? You want the Picard name to be known throughout the galaxy? Here's your chance." "And in return?" Whatever Q's terms, Picard had already decided to agree to them. When Q did not immediately answer, Picard smirked and reached to unbutton his vest. Q shook his head sharply and Picard paused, watching him shrewdly. "You can have me, of course, but what else do you want?" "I don't want you," Q lied. "I only want you to behave less like a savage." "You'd better change your mind." Picard warned, but he was smiling. "You'll never have *him*, and when you finally decide to come to me because second best is better than nothing, your pride will be in the way. You won't be able to stand hearing me say 'I told you so,' and you'll act out your frustration in ways I don't even want to contemplate because you are, after all, a god. Now grant me a favor, oh god. Take me to bed now and get it over with, please." Q shook his head, flummoxed yet again. "Why do I hate you so much?" he asked, but his amusement was plain on his face, belying the words utterly. "Because I'm the only Johnny you get to have, omnipotence notwithstanding." Picard stepped towards him, lifting his face, smiling as Q's arms came up around him. "Make the most of it, Q. It's the only chance you get." Epilogue As promised, Q gave Jean-Luc the opportunity to come to see Picard one last time. He materialized in Picard's living room, tears glistening as he faced his other self. He had to clear his throat twice before speaking. "I never thought I would say this, but before I go I want to tell you how much I admire you." "Why does that make you cry?" Picard had just been in bed with Q. Sparks had flown. He could be himself with Q, no guilt, no atonement, no confession, no frustration. He felt free again. "Because I've wanted to say that for a long time, and couldn't bring myself to do so." Picard shrugged. "Don't make me into your father confessor, Jean-Luc. Go and live your life. *Be* for me that which I cannot become. Do you understand?" Jean-Luc stepped forward and cautiously took Picard into his arms. "I love you," he whispered. "I know you do," Picard whispered back. "Never stop." He stroked Jean-Luc's cheek in farewell, and then Jean-Luc stepped back and disappeared. "Who was that?" Q called from the bedroom. Picard smiled to himself. Q's voice was languid with afterglow. 'And you call yourself a god,' he thought with fond scorn. "You know good and well who that was. What are you going to do with him?" "Don't know yet. He could do with a wife, don't you think?" "Take good care of him. He tried very hard." Picard walked back into the bedroom, thinking about how good life was. Beverly was on her way to New Hebrides for an extended leave. He was on his way to Earth with an omnipotent immortal at his side. He could afford to be generous enough to care what happened to Jean-Luc. He had a universe to conquer. --