by E. L. Zimmerman


Entirely of his own free will, Jean-Luc Picard did as Anij had, somehow, miraculously taught the 'offworlder' to do, and he watched the results as the Chemla hovering in the air before him flapped its colorful wings slower and slower. Concentrating with the power of his mind, he braked the passage of time to a virtual crawl, unbeknownst to the insect or the remainder of the world surrounding it. Curious, he watched the wings moving gracefully, fathomed every contraction and expansion passing through the insect's body necessary for it to sustain flight, and the captain smiled. Then, in a moment of total clarity, Picard thought he saw the balanced Chemla actually turn its tentacled eyes his direction ...

... and look.

Startled to find the butterfly aware of him, he suddenly released the colorfully winged insect from his control. It immediately bobbed upward in the air, the way butterflies do, and then it fluttered throughout the bedroom, darting high and low and, eventually, out through the window the captain had opened every morning for the last several weeks to enjoy the beauty and warmth of a morning sunrise.

His eyes now fixed on the mirror before him, Picard studied every distinguished wrinkle, every mark, every crease around his eyes, nose, and mouth. As well, he reached up and traced, with his fingertips, the lines neatly and evenly drawn across his forehead. They were deep, reminding him of tracks worn into an oft-used dirt road outside the village where he grew up back in France. A calming breeze wafting in through the open window, the captain wiped away the thin layer of moisture from his face and leaned forward. Was it his imagination or had his healthy skin, over the last year, lost some of its sheen? Dismissing the thought and righting his jaw line, he squared his face in the mirror and stared at his reflection.

Was it the light in here or did he notice signs that he had, truly, grown old?


Embarrassed, he cleared his throat and looked away from the mirror. Over his shoulder, he glanced back toward the sight of the welcome thick, plush blanket pulled down across the bed where he had slept these last few weeks.

"Did you just call me 'Johnny'?" he asked.

Sitting up slightly in the bed, Anij gradually smiled in the direction of her lover. "Did I offend you?"

He smiled warmly back at her. "Not at all. As a matter of fact, it's a name I haven't heard in a very long time ... not since my days at Starfleet Academy."

Mussing her hair and brushing it away from her cheeks, she replied, with genuine delight, "You don't know how happy it makes me to know that I can, in more ways than one, bring out the reckless youth inside the legendary Jean-Luc Picard."

The word struck a chord with him, and he muttered it to himself. "Legendary."

Frowning, she considered the gentle man, and she asked, "What is it, Jean-Luc?"

He sensed the sheer restlessness that had been growing inside, more strongly these last few days ... more strongly than he had ever expected. He turned back to the mirror, gathering one more breath of his own image, and said, "Anij, at the risk of sounding terribly vain, can I ask you a personal question?"

Lifting her shoulder from the pillow and resting her cheek in her hand, she fixed her eyes on him. "So long as you give me your word that you'll come back to bed afterwards."

Smiling, he rotated on the chair to face her. He felt the warmth of the morning sunlight he had grown so accustomed to tingle on his skin, and he realized, in that moment, how truly content he was.

"Is it entirely possible for a person - any person - to reach a crossroad in life ... where all one thinks about are his own interests?"

She narrowed her stare at him. "Jean-Luc, of all the people I've ever met in my three hundred years, you're the most selfless person I've ever known."

Lightly, he shook his head. "No," he replied. "I'm not making myself clear. I'm not talking about selfishness ... necessarily. I think that - in one way or another - we all suffer from some form of selfishness or self-preservation or self interest." He paused, watching her eyes, realizing the almost hypnotic power she held over him. "I'm talking about simple existence. Do we - each of us - reach a point where it become paramount to live life the way we want it to be?"

Easily, she lay back in the bed, staring up at the stone ceiling of her bedroom. Sighing, he watched as the blanket caressed the immeasurable beauty of her form, and he felt himself - even after these past six weeks - still blushing at the thought of their intimacy.

"The universe is a wondrous if not magical place," she finally answered him. "While the Klingons would call it a battleground, the Vulcans would measure it by logic. I don't know that any one man - whether he is a reckless Starfleet cadet or a well-aged leader among his people - every fully lives his life without touching the lives of those around him."

Crossing his arms, he said wryly, "If you haven't guessed, I'm talking about myself ... which I don't do very often. Consequently," he sighed, "I don't do it very well."

She sat up again, giving him her undivided attention. She wanted him to know that she was here to listen as well as to love him.

"Are you afraid that you've reached the twilight of your life?"

Sitting back in the chair, he scoffed at the notion. "Not in the slightest," he admitted. "Perhaps at one time, growing old was a frightening concept, but not any longer. I've accepted the fact that there are fewer years ahead. That's not it. On the contrary, I'm afraid of growing old ... without any purpose in my life."

Rising from the chair before her vanity, he strode slowly back to the bed. Effortlessly, he slid onto the comfortable mattress and under the covers beside her. Her soft and warm skin still brought shivers to him, and he smiled at her. "Anij, I've found myself ... restless with the thought of returning to service."

Again, she rested her cheek in her hand, placing an open palm on his bare chest. He appreciated the subtle warmth of a loved one's touch, and, in that moment, he realized he could say anything to her.

"In what way?" she asked.

Heavily, he sighed again. The weight of beginning this conversation was now well off his shoulders. The fear of completing it was close at hand, but he forged ahead. "I'm uncertain of what value I can add to my career," he said. "You see, I believe I've faced my darkest hours. The Borg assimilated me, but I came back and managed to help defeat them ... on more than one occasion. I've endured a ... civil relationship with the Klingon Empire, even throughout their own civil war. The Jem'Hadar and the Founders." He turned to her and welcomed her eyes with his own. "Anij, I've confronted many of Starfleet gravest enemies. With the grace of whatever ... benevolent being is out there watching over all of us ... and with the professionalism and commitment of the fleet's finest crew, I've faced all of the challenges I believe life has laid out for me. I'm not certain that I've anything left to offer Starfleet, and I'm feeling quite certain that Starfleet has little to offer me in return."

"In what way?"

"The obvious way," he confided in her. "I've been here for so very long that ... I can't imagine a living life any other way."

Staring up at the blank ceiling, he sorted out his thoughts, and suddenly recalled a conversation. "There was a time I was on a secret mission of sorts ... to Romulus, and I wound up spending many hours with Ambassador Spock."

"You've mentioned him before," she said, recognizing the name.

"Yes," Picard agreed, nodding, studying her face's gentle curves. She was so very beautiful, but he was convinced that she didn't know it. Was his purpose in life now to convince her? "Yes, I did tell you all about the ambassador. Well, I remember a conversation that he told me he had had many, many years ago with his friend, James Kirk."

"You've mentioned him, too," she reminded him, smiling.

"I know that I've tried to share with you the life I led - every interesting and trivial facet of it that there is - before we met," he said. "When I think back over our time together, I do feel more and more like that reckless cadet you keep referring to ... but I recall Spock told me that, during an engagement he and Captain Kirk shared regarding the Klingon Peace Accords that he found himself feeling ... old. He shared his thoughts on his impending age with his friend. You see, Spock thought that he and his shipmates had reached a point of outliving their usefulness to the Federation. Ultimately, I believe that is why he left active duty and sought an ambassadorship. He wanted to serve the universe as best as he could, not so much the military that had become Starfleet."

Calmly, she stroked the hairs of his chest under her gentle fingertips. "You've been among my people long enough to know that we believe in the fundamental sanctity and purpose of all life forms," she confessed. "It's what guides our civilization. It's what we teach to our children. While we might respectfully keep offlanders under relative scrutiny, we also want to embrace them as universal partners in existence." She paused before adding, "It's important that the children grow up with a clear understanding that not only does life have meaning but also purpose."

"Exactly," he agreed happily. "Spock felt that they - the crew of his Enterprise - had outlived their usefulness." He shrugged. "Their ship had already been scheduled for recall, and its crew was reassigned to other vessels or departments within Starfleet. Spock's fears inevitably did come to pass. From his perspective at the time, he had outgrown his own purpose ... and he had to find another."

"Johnny, are you telling me that you're experiencing doubts about your usefulness to Starfleet?"

"Anij," he said softly, leaning across to kiss her on the nose. "I wish I understood all of what it is I'm feeling, but I have to confess that I don't. All I can tell you is that it's a restlessness, and it's telling me that perhaps I should step aside."

"Step aside?" she asked.


"Why would you do such a thing?"

"There are others," he confided in her, "who deserve a chance to lead. While they can, they deserve a chance to underscore their own value to Starfleet the way that I have. Who knows? They might very well usher in a new age of leadership, one that could possibly redefine the potential of the Federation and its position in history."

"Jean-Luc," she whispered back at him, resting her chin on his shoulder, "you know that I've far more years in the universe than you."

"It isn't about age," he told her. "It's about ... happiness."

Rising, she locked her eyes with him.

"I've found a kind of completeness these last few weeks staying here with you," he explained, meeting her stare and taking in the full breadth of her beauty. "Frankly, I can't think of a time when I've ever felt more at peace with myself, who I've been, and who I'm becoming."

With a hand, he brushed back the hair off her face so that he could enjoy all of her sweet, radiant skin. "In your arms, I've found something that, after my brother died, I never imagined possible ... and I owe it all to you.

"The last thing I want to be is a presumptuous old fool," he continued. "Frankly, it doesn't become me. But, when I entertain the thought of returning to service aboard the Enterprise ... while I admit that I'll certainly miss those who have become a part of my life ... and I'll admit that I've established bonds with my crew that certainly extend well beyond the limits of a conventional family ... I can't think of any greater purpose to serve in my life ... except for staying here, at your side, and growing old."

She lifted her head and granted him her undivided attention. He found no expression on her face, so he wasn't aware of how she was reacting inside to what he was saying. He had long hoped that she felt love for him, too, but they were words that the two of them, for reasons unknown, hadn't dared to speak.

"Jean-Luc," she began, "what are you saying?"

He smiled up at her. Fear faded quickly from his heart, and, ever the explorer, he ventured where he hadn't gone before, risking everything he held sacred in the name of the happiness he had professed.

"Anij," he began, "will you marry me?"

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