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Three Minus One

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“Maybe we don’t have to be afraid any longer.”

Jean-Luc kisses her, and Beverly closes her eyes. Years ago, she dreamed of them touching one another like this, of strong arms embracing her; when she imagined her ultimate happiness, Jean-Luc was part of what she dreamed. This is not the first time they’ve kissed, but it could be a beginning.

Instead, she pulls away. Her hand caresses his face – a farewell gesture, one he can’t fail to recognize – and the weight of words unspoken falls between them. The light of hope dies in his eyes; she might hate herself for that, if she didn’t know the truth.

“Maybe we should be more afraid,” she says.

He won’t ask again. Jean-Luc is too much of a gentleman, and too much of a fool, to press his suit. Within seconds, Beverly has left him. Alone, she walks back to her empty rooms.

The Jack in her mind whispers to her. Jack does that a lot. Beverly went to counseling on this issue many times over many years, before Deanna in her wisdom said that if it was comforting to hear her late husband, then Beverly should simply listen.

You could try.

She answers, It can never be complete.

Not without you.


**

25 years ago. Summer in France. Jean-Luc is an exile from his own family, but not from the land he loves. They rent hoverbikes and zoom along the ruins of long-abandoned highways, where fragments of asphalt are just visible beneath fields of goldenrod. It is agreed that Jean-Luc will ride ahead, because he is their native guide, and this allows them all to indulge Jean-Luc’s delusion that he is too mature to love speed for its own sake.

Or maybe not. Maybe he knows. The way he guns the jets as they sweep up hills suggests he might.

Beverly and Jack are still young officers with more leave than pay, and the trip is planned around their budget and needs. Jean-Luc is so casual about taking the ticket for meals that he might believe they don’t notice that he pays for their group twice as often as they do. Sometimes, to save a few credits, they rent only a couple of hovercycles for the day. When they do that, Jack usually rides behind Beverly. Sometimes, she lets him drive and rides behind Jean-Luc, with her arms wrapped around his waist for hours. At the end of those days, Beverly embraces Jack in their room at night and he whispers that she smells like Jean-Luc’s skin. They kiss, and she breathes in deeply, catching the scent of the three of them together.

Maybe that’s how it began. Or maybe it began a long time before that.

One day they come close enough to Chateau Picard that, if they ride to the very top of the hill, they can see the vineyards. Jean-Luc looks over the scene, and despite everything he has done since – an entire career in the stars – Beverly realizes for the first time that he belongs here and always will. Just because it is not the only place he belongs doesn’t mean that he can ever let it go.

“We could ride closer,” Beverly says. “If you wanted.”

Jean-Luc shakes his head. “No need.”

He wants to, though. Beverly can see it as plainly as she can see his dark eyes, or the set of his shoulders. The man is too good at self-denial. “I guess that would keep us from making our goal today,” she says, to give him a simple out. He nods; they'll move on soon. But he lingers a moment longer.

“You can taste a good summer in the air,” he says. Forever he will retain a winemaker’s expertise, just one of the many categories of genius he possesses and does not use. “This vintage will be exceptional.”

“We’ll buy a case, then. And we’ll drink it together.” Jack threads his arm through Jean-Luc’s; Beverly does the same on the other side. It’s a spontaneous gesture, not calculated, which makes it more startling when her eyes meet Jack’s, and intent finds intent.

They both want this, and must have wanted it for even longer than she’s realized.

**

That night, in bed, they discuss.

“I can’t say I never thought about it,” Jack says. “But it never felt right without you.”

“Same here.” Beverly thinks the fact that they can admit this is a testament to the strength of their marriage, but there are those – even in the 24th century, even on Earth – who might not agree. Is Jean-Luc one of them? “Do you think he’s seen it too?”

“Maybe. He’s hard to read.”

“He let us see the vineyard today. Let us see him when he saw it. I don’t know if he would have done that if he weren’t – open to the possibility.”

As soon as she says that, Beverly realizes she’s open to the possibility too. This isn’t just a feeling she and Jack share. It’s something they want. Something they might try.

“He’s a traditionalist,” Jack says. “More so than he realizes.”

“He’s no exo prude.” The slur comes easily from Beverly’s lips – a term used for those from worlds outside the Federation that still engage in barbaric practices, from hobbling women to eating real meat, or for people within the Federation who think those guys have the right idea. Using that word on a Starfleet ship could get Beverly a reprimand; they’re meant to respect all beliefs and customs, and in the truest sense she does. But she can say this to Jack. She could even say it to Jean-Luc, though he’d tsk. “Isn’t there a triad on the Stargazer crew?”

“Yes, there is – Varek from Engineering, and Gilda Rosca and Rosalind Fulham from Medical. Jean-Luc presided over the bonding.”

“See.”

“Jean-Luc doesn’t judge other people,” Jack clarifies. “He judges himself.”

“You honestly think he’d find it – immoral? Strange?”

“No. Not at all. But – it wouldn’t occur to him to suggest it. It might never occur to him to think about it.”

“Then maybe that’s what we do. We don’t ask. We find ways to make him think about it.”

She and Jack examine each other. They are close enough to admit their mutual desire, even to act on it, but this would not be a simple seduction, a night or a week or a vacation of fun before they go back to being a couple once again. Jean-Luc is too important to them both.

“This will change us,” Beverly says.

“We’re strong enough to change. Aren’t we?”

By way of answer, Beverly kisses him. Their lovemaking that night is slow, tender, but sad. A goodbye of sorts. Even before Jean-Luc joins them – even before they know if he will ever join them – they’ll never be the same.

She can feel Jean-Luc's shadow next to her – within her – all the while.

**

The next day is cloudy, gray and windy. Rain falls in spotty patches, never heavy enough to make them call off the day’s travel, but never absent long enough to make the going pleasant. They compromise by taking a long lunch at an old-fashioned café, one of the ones from the 22nd century, when everything had to be round or else.

Jack, who hates being wet (he even put in a sonic shower at home), strikes up a conversation with some men at the spherical bar. A couple of them are ex-Starfleet too, veterans of the last Romulan confilict, and they clearly have stories to tell that could unspool for hours.

“It’s good of Jack,” Jean-Luc says. “To let them speak.”

“As if he could get a word in edgewise.”

“People talk like that when they are lonely. And it costs so little to listen.” He pours more wine from the carafe for her before he tops off his own glass. Evidently he doesn’t think they’ll be traveling much further today either. “I should be more like Jack.”

“You underestimate yourself. Jack and I like you just the way you are.”

Their eyes meet, for only a moment, before he quickly looks away. Too much too soon, maybe, and Beverly decides she should wait for the heavy flirtation until Jack is with them. A change of subject is in order. She glances at his knapsack; there, peeking out from the foil, is something she’s meant to ask him about before. “Is that a book?”

“Some of us still like words printed on paper, you know.”

“A traditionalist.” Beverly puts one hand on the book, and when Jean-Luc doesn’t object, she pulls it out for examination. “The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway – I’ve heard of him.”

“One of Earth’s most noted writers from the 20th century. The first book of his I’ve tried.”

“What do you think?”

“I’m not sure he’d ever spoken to an actual woman,” Jean-Luc says. “But the spare language is beautiful, and it’s an astonishing window into the past – the aftermath of Earth’s first world war, when the very first pacifist movements started –“

The conversation turns intellectual, as it often does with Jean-Luc, and Beverly enjoys it immensely. Jack Crusher is a stimulating man in many ways, but he’s not one for history or philosophy. By the time they are done comparing the Lost Generation of the 1920s to the Wanderers of the 2160s, the old men have run out of war stories, and Jack has long been back at the round table with them, one hand on Beverly’s knee and the other on Jean-Luc’s shoulder, unheeded.

They decide to keep going, but the hovercycles vibrate more when there’s that much humidity in the air; Beverly’s thighs and shoulders ache from trying to stabilize the damn thing. It’s Jean-Luc who insists that they pull over a good 200 kilometers from the village they’d planned to stay in that night.

“You want us to sleep in a barn?” Beverly says, wringing water from the ends of her long hair as she looks at their surroundings.

“This is not a barn.” Jean-Luc looks at her severely, at once wholly the proper Starfleet officer and the farmboy. “This is an antique colombier.”

“A dovecote,” Jack explains, as Jean-Luc raises one eyebrow at what he no doubt considers an unnecessary translation. “Though it looks like no doves have been here for a while.”

“We can roost here instead.” Beverly goes into their packs and pulls out the emergency blanket rolls that come with the hovercycles, the ones everyone scoffs at until they need them. The dovecote isn’t that big, and once she’s laid out the blankets and pillows, the edges all touch. It’s one sleeping surface.

She doesn’t look at Jack; if their eyes meet, they will ask each other if this is the right time. Beverly doesn’t want to ask. She wants to act.

It’s easy enough to angle herself so that Jean-Luc winds up lying down in the middle. Jack takes his place on the other side. Each of them is tired enough to be breathing heavily, and their clothes are slightly damp. Droplets of water bead their hands, and she reaches up, gingerly, to brush Jean-Luc’s scalp.

He doesn’t look at her, simply closes his eyes in calm acceptance of the touch. That must be a good sign.

Now or never. Beverly takes a deep breath and stretches one arm casually over Jean-Luc’s chest, as though she is reaching for Jack. A moment later, Jack takes her hand, their fingers interlacing over Jean-Luc’s heart. She can feel the thump – too steady, too regular, a reminder of how close he came to dying as a young man. Even Jean-Luc was reckless once. Will he see this as recklessness too?

Jack’s fingers tighten around hers. She shifts slightly, preparing to – she doesn’t know what she’s preparing to do, but she’ll know when she does it. Jean-Luc glances sideways at her, not quite questioning, but studying her more closely than he has in a long while. The mere intensity of his gaze is enough to stoke the blaze inside her, and uncertainty leaps closer to joy –

--when his communicator starts to chirp. Followed, two seconds later, by Jack’s.

“Damn.” Jean-Luc pushes himself up easily enough. Jack lies still a moment longer, as Beverly does, both of them somewhat stunned by the close call.

It turns out that there’s a singularity near Alpha Centuari, or something inexplicable but akin to a singularity – astrophysics is not Beverly’s strong suit. The Stargazer’s holiday has been cut short. Time to go.

“We’ll have to do this again sometime.” Jack seems cheerful enough as he gets ready to go. Easy for him to smile and make little innuendoes: He’ll still be with Jean-Luc after this – still with one of the people he loves.

“You’re sure you can tow the other hovercycle?” It’s just like Jean-Luc, to worry about the fate of one person before going off to save billions.

“I’ll manage.” Beverly tries to look fine with being left alone. She must do a terrible job, because Jean-Luc pauses in his tracks, obviously trying to think of something, anything, he can do for her.

Then he hands her the book, the one by Hemingway. “Read it,” he says. “You can tell me how it ends.”

Only Jean-Luc would think a book might be a good substitute for a lover. But Beverly hugs it close as the two of them beam away. She sits alone in the dovecote for a while, listening to the low mournful howl of the wind outside. Eventually she stretches out across all three blankets and reads; what else can she do?

**

Within another year, Jack has a rather unexpected leave while Beverly's between suppressor cycles. In a flush of enthusiasm, they take their chances, open to the possibility that does, in fact, become their son. Wesley’s presence in their life changes things; Jean-Luc is solicitous of Beverly as a mother, but he is clearly flummoxed by the very idea of being near a baby.

“We might want to talk to Jean-Luc in a couple of years,” Jack says one night when Wesley’s been up squalling for hours. “After this phase is over.”

Ultimately, Beverly thinks she’d expect Jean-Luc to accept Wesley as his son, their son, all three of theirs. But she and Jack are redefining themselves now – as people and as parents – and it makes sense to work through that more before they undertake another enormous change. A couple of years. Yes.

But a couple of years was more than Jack had left.

**

Maybe we should be more afraid, Beverly had said. No doubt Jean-Luc is still trying to make sense of those words. Probably he thinks that if he can understand what she means, her refusals will hurt less.

What Jean-Luc doesn’t know, can never know, is that a relationship between the two of them cannot be complete. Their connection through the Kesprytt devices was deep enough to reveal so much – too much, and yet not enough. Beverly understands, now, that Jean-Luc loved her all along. He loved her even as they lay there in France. She wasn’t being gentle or seductive by taking Jack’s hand over his chest; she was torturing him. Always the traditionalist: Jean-Luc had not seen his desire for Beverly as something he could share with Jack, only something he ought to be ashamed of.

And on Kesprytt, he did not see deep enough within her to understand that what she felt for him always, always, was part of what she felt for Jack.

If the three of them had made it work back then, as she and Jack wanted, Beverly thinks that she and Jean-Luc could've gone on alone. They even could have been happy. But a relationship with Jean-Luc now would be only a shadow of what she really wanted. That shadow would destroy them faster than longing ever could. That’s what she’s afraid of – what he will never know.

The next morning, she is unsure whether or not he’ll come to breakfast. He does. It’s slightly awkward, but more rueful than actually uncomfortable, and Jean-Luc gives her a small smile when she offers him a simple coffee and croissant.

Only at the end of their meal does he clear his throat, pause and say, “I know you won’t reconsider.”

Beverly shakes her head.

“So I only wanted to say – I think we might have had something very wonderful together.”

She remembers a stone dovecote in France, with the wind blowing in, and both of the men she loved by her side. They never did get around to talking about how the book ended; this isn’t how she meant to tell him, but it will have to do. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

His hand covers hers for a moment – the way Jack’s did so long ago – before he rises to leave.