She stood next to him on the deck, centimetres from touching. Will stood on his right, tall and straight and too-stiff at attention. Deanna made it look more natural, standing in honour of those who will never see them or know they came to their rescue too late. Jean-Luc turned his head, breaking his concentration to look at her before the whistle drew their attention forward to the single coffin representing everyone they didn't save.
The vast hanger deck echoed with the sound of shifting boots. She imagined she could hear the vertebrae of everyone on the Enterprise snapping into alignment all the way down the corridors. She hated standing there. Loathed it to the very core of her, but there's nothing she could do. She couldn't invent medical emergencies to keep her in sickbay or send Selar to stand there in her stead. She's the chief medical officer of the Enterprise and that carried responsibilities.
Beverly could just about feel Deanna skimming the surface of her mind and she knew that her friend will be unavoidable tomorrow but she couldn't talk about it.
There was nothing left to say.
She didn't know a soul on the Magellan. She had only heard of Doctor Muvallik through her work and Captain Grayzna was three years ahead of her at the Academy. There were a thousand other names on her report, all dead in a millisecond when the Magellan impacted a cosmic string and lost antimatter containment. She had sickbay ready, all her trauma teams were prepared, but the Magellan was gone before they arrived.
All their preparations wasted, she sent her crew back to their stations, all empty handed. Bodies turned to atoms required no autopsies, and the only thing she'd had to do for the Magellan was sign all the death certificates. There were no bodies to bring home to their families and the thousand dead seemed never to have existed at all.
She made it through the crew and halfway through the civilians before she had to leave her office. She didn't need anything from the bridge. There's nothing Jean-Luc can do to either, and he's as stuck approving all the deaths as she is.
He left his desk the moment she walked in. They stood there, face-to-face as if they stood at the end of the universe together.
Jean-Luc waited for her to speak, his smile patient. When she didn't say anything, he reached for her arm.
"I hope I'm not-"
He didn't even look at his desk. "Nothing that can't wait." Jean-Luc waved her over the sofa, heading to the replicator. "I was about to have some tea."
That was why she was here: to have him make her tea and tell her everything was all right because when she told herself, Beverly couldn't believe it.
"There were twenty-six children on that ship, Jean-Luc," she said, still standing.
He nodded, finishing her thought before it's even out of her mouth. "And thirty-four on the Enterprise. Violet Xhao is just six weeks old."
Beverly smiled at her hands as she heard the replicator hum in the alcove. "I delivered her myself."
"I offered Ensign Xhao a transfer to Starbase Eight-Two-One, but she declined."
"It's not the Enterprise, Jean-Luc."
He grinned at that, sitting down with a mug of tea in each hand. Waiting for her to sit and take her tea, he kept his ga ze up on her.
"Few assignments are. I imagine the Magellan held a similar esteem. A position on a vessel like that is difficult to come by as a junior officer."
"Or a senior one." She sighed and sat, taking the tea from his hand and staring at the surface. The dark liquid had no secrets for her. The faint citrus aroma calmed her nerves. "I beat out eight other applications for the Enterprise. I don't know if I've been more proud then when my assignment came through. I brought my son onto this fragile, insignificant ship-"
"Beverly," he cut her off, setting his tea aside and resting his hand on her knee.
"I don't mean that disparagingly."
"I'd never speak ill of your ship, Jean-Luc."
He chuckled, patting her shoulder. "I'd hope not."
"I brought Wesley here."
"And left him," Jean-Luc finished for her. "That's what you're thinking, isn't it?"
Beverly exhaled and the cold knot settled into the bottom of her stomach, like the beginnings of a quantum singularity. "Do you think that's it?"
"It's what we keep coming back too. You went to Starfleet Medical and let Wesley decide to stay here. If something had happened-"
She gulped her tea, letting the hot liquid scald her throat. It stung all the way down into her chest. "It would be my fault."
"I don't think the universe allows for fault, Beverly."
"It certainly doesn't have much room for error."
He nodded, his hand still on her shoulder. "We don't know what happened to the Magellan. It's possible we could have arrived earlier and saved them, it's possible they could have avoided their fate. It's something we'll never know."
"Which is terribly unfair." She reached up and squeezed his fingers where they rested on her shoulder. "I'm glad you were here, with Wesley." Beverly didn't want to contemplate a version of events where she'd lost both of them, but she'd taken great comfort in knowing Jean-Luc was the one keeping Wesley safe.
"I can't speak for parents,' he said, holding her gaze. "I believe we all make compromises. My parents never wanted to watch me sail into the stars, and I never could have stayed in France."
His smiled. "Exactly. I doubt they wanted to let me go, but they loved me for who I was, infuriating as it must have been."
"I need to love Wesley for knowing what he wanted, as infuriating and frightening as it was?"
"Whether it's faith in the vessel that carries us or the hands that guide her, we all have to trust that the Enterprise will bring us home."
Smiling down at her tea, Beverly tapped her fingers against the glass. Looking up, she let her smile grow. "She has so far." The ship was his home and hers, if she was truly honest with herself. "I should talk to Deanna."
"Letting go is incredibly difficult, Beverly. You can't expect it to happen in a year."
She nodded. He was right and Deanna would find a way to word it so the idea stuck in her head.
Jean-Luc's voice softened and he looked to the stars in the window instead of her. "Jack would be proud."
Beverly debated if he meant of her or of Wesley and let the subject change as they finished their tea. She asked Deanna to find time of her in the next few days and then sat across from her as Deanna led her from the Magellan to Wesley and finally to Jack and her parents. Space was darkness and death, but also possibility, potential and hope. They were all out here to explore and that was important to her, at least as important as the idea of safety on Earth.
Two days later, he rang her door chime just as she was thinking of bed. He was out of his uniform and she'd had rehearsal, so she was wrapped in her blue sweater when she waved him in.
"Forgive me," he started, hands clasped in front of him.
"Tea or something stronger, Jean-Luc?" she asked, heading for the replicator. "I think I'm in the mood for a nightcap. Uldennan whiskey has a lovely spice to it."
"I was wondering who added that to the replicator."
"You could have asked," she teased, setting a tumbler in his hand. "Or would that ruin the surprise?"
"The mystery is the thing."
"Staying up late playing in the holographic rain?"
He sniffed, then tasted, nodding his approval. "I wish I'd had the time."
"Several family members of the Magellan's crew have sent letters through Starfleet Command. Will offered to handle them but-"
"You thought you ought to read them.'
Jean-Luc finished his synthehol and left his chair, pacing instead of getting another glass. "It seems right."
"You can't bring all the bodies home, Jean-Luc, no matter how responsible you may feel."
"Are you suggesting it isn't my responsibility?" His smile had hope beneath it, as if she could absolve him of his guilt.
Beverly wished she could. "I believe the responsibility can be shared." She inclined her head towards the sofa at her side and waited for him to sit. "They're looking for a connection as much as answers, Jean-Luc. No one expects you to solve every mystery."
"I wish I had more to give them," he said, setting down his empty glass and resting his elbows on his knees. He dropped his head into his hands, taking a moment before he looked up again. "Bodies would be easier."
"Not always better." She touched his shoulder, slowly making a circle on his back. "Let Will reply to some of the letters, you don't have to read all of them yourself. I believe someone said no one is alone on the Enterprise. I think that applies to captains as well as chief medical officers."
"I'm hardly alone now."
"No." She rested her forehead against his, letting the heat of her comfort him. "You aren't.