Even that last, insane mission had been accomplished, despite Q's not necessarily helpful intervention: everything had ended for the better and humanity had passed even that test that the Continuum had concocted to test the 'maturity' of their species.

Not that Jean-Luc Picard, Commanding Officer of the flagship Enterprise, was particularly happy about yet another interference by one of the most powerful (as well as most mischievous) alien entities he had encountered during his years of service in Starfleet.
But, and it had to be said, there was no denying that Q's intervention had somehow set in motion a series of thoughts that the man had left aside after what had happened on Kesprytt III and Dr. Crusher's subsequent refusal to engage in exploring their feelings for each other.

The fact that, in Q's hypothesised future, a Picard suffering from Irumodic Syndrome had married and subsequently divorced Beverly Crusher, the widow of one of his closest friends, Jack Crusher, had made him a little bitter, to be honest.
He had always hoped in his heart to see the day when they would be able to go beyond the limits imposed (and self-imposed) by the United Federation of Planets, Starfleet and themselves, but once before Crusher had preferred not to take the risk of ruining their friendship.
And how could he blame her? If what Q had shown him was true, then Beverly had a point in fearing that things would go wrong between them. After all, 25 years from now they would be well and truly divorced and not necessarily on good terms, so why put themselves on the line and at risk knowing how things would turn out?

He was reminded of a conversation he had had with Beverly herself during the crisis, when he believed he was in 'his own time'. The woman had followed him to his office, after Picard had left command of the bridge to Commander Riker, his trusted right-hand man, and had prescribed warm milk with nutmeg and eight hours of sleep, since he had not had enough rest in that timeline. He still remembered the conversation that had followed the woman's medical orders, a conversation that had given him some hope.

Since Beverly had seemed down to him, somehow, he had found himself asking her in a warm, reassuring voice a «What?» followed by taking her hands in his own and forcing her to look up, calling her name: «Hey, Beverly...»
The words that the Enterprise's Chief Medical Officer had addressed to him had probably been the last he had expected: «As a doctor, it is often my job to give people unpleasant news, telling them that they need surgery or that they can't have children or that they may be forced to face a difficult illness...»
To which, he had commented, again politely: «You said yourself that this might just be a possibility.»
«But you have been in the future... you know what can happen!» Crusher had not seemed at all reassured by his words, leading him to squeeze her hands more gently and smile at her, reassuringly, before saying: «I prefer to look at the future as something that is not settled and unmoving... many things can happen in 25 years.»
She had merely observed him for a moment, before leaning down to kiss him and whispering: «Many things can happen.»
After that, she had left the room, with him following her thoughtfully with his gaze.

That was perhaps one of the only instances of his experience that he had not shared fully with his superior officers, let alone with Crusher herself. He did not want her to feel pressured into radically changing her mind about the nature of their relationship: if she was more comfortable this way, as friends, he would simply accept it and stay close to her.

Counsellor Troi seemed to have sensed that Picard was hiding something, but had preferred not to investigate too much, perhaps for fear of opening a Pandora's box and touching keys that his own Captain and friend had not yet intended to address directly. From the very first days aboard the Enterprise-D, now seven years earlier, the Counsellor had felt a sort of deep emotional bond between his two colleagues that only with time, and a greater and deeper knowledge of both of them, had he been able to identify with a terminology dear to the Betazoids: Imzadi.

Equally inscrutable had been Dr. Crusher herself, who had made little comment on the possibility of marriage and subsequent separation between herself and Captain Picard twenty-five years hence. It was not clear to the Counsellor what her friend and colleague was afraid of, even though she was aware that her previous husband, Lieutenant Commander Jack Crusher, had died in the line of duty, right before the eyes of a helpless Picard. Was it therefore possible that, however unconsciously, she still blamed Jean-Luc for what had happened?

But it was Beverly Crusher, surprisingly enough, who took matters into her own hands, confronting Jean-Luc head-on one morning, over breakfast, before a shift.
Breakfast which, with the passing of time, had become a pleasant habit of theirs and a regular appointment, never interrupted, not even after what happened on the planet of Kesprytt III. Their bond, which had blossomed and formed when Jack had introduced them and then strengthened over the years of serving side by side, and it really took something irreparable for it to be broken.

«You know, Jean-Luc, I was thinking back to what you told me about your last experience with Q implied...» exclaimed Beverly, nonchalantly at one point, as she took a sip from her own cup of coffee.
«Yes?» Picard couldn't help but ask her, inviting her to continue the conversation.
«You said that, in Q's hypothesised future, you would be suffering from Irumodic Syndrome, but you made no mention of how things had gone between us. What happened? For real?»
Uh-oh, thought Picard, shifting slightly uncomfortably in his chair. Dejà-vu. After taking a deep breath and clearing his throat, he finally answered her: «Well, we decided to take our relationship to the next stage by embarking on a romantic relationship that led us to get married. As I mentioned, you decided in the meantime to pursue a career in command and managed to achieve the rank of Captain, becoming Commanding Officer of a medical vessel: the U.S.S. Pasteur
«Yes, I remember you saying that. Did you also mention any little sparks between us?»
«By the time the Irumodic Syndrome forced me to desert active duty and retire, we were divorced. I don't know exactly why this happened, I only know that it did.»

The woman, seated at the other end of the table, nodded silently, taking her time to think things over and consider what she was going to say next. Finally she looked up, meeting Picard's eyes, and said: «Knowing Q, it must surely have been a trick of his to see how you would react, setting it up so that it would look like it wouldn't go well between us anyway.»
«What are you thinking, Beverly?» Picard couldn't help but ask, again, still uncomfortable and, now, unsure too of what kind of conversation they were having.
«I was reflecting on what happened a few months ago,» Beverly pondered, as she lazily turned the cup over in her hands, «after our brief adventure on Kespritt.» Jean-Luc motioned her to continue, curious to see where the woman was going with this: «Well, Q showed you a future, but it doesn't have to be the right future. In fact, maybe it was just the fruit of his perversion in testing the other races he considered inferior. In testing you. In the end, Jean-Luc, you said it yourself that Q admitted he set it up just to test you again.»

The man, in turn, took his time before answering her: he did not want to get his hopes up too high, as he had already once found himself with a door slammed in his face. It wasn't that he wanted to repeat the experience, after all. That's why he decided to tread very carefully on what seemed to him to be a minefield: «I'm not particularly sure if Q wanted to test me in that specific aspect, though. Not in such a blatant way, at least. Just consider what he had set up when he took us to Sherwood Forest, making us look like Robin Hood and the Merry Forest Companions.»
«You know Q, Jean-Luc. He has never missed an opportunity over the years to mock you in one way or another. Maybe this time he'll have had more than one objective, don't you think?»
At that point, Picard gave her a puzzled look, not understanding where she was going with this: she was much more direct than that, usually. She almost seemed to be walking on eggshells a bit too, but he couldn't understand why, which prompted him to ask (echoing something very similar to what had happened during Q's proposed challenge): «What is it, Beverly?»
This time it was Crusher who took a deep breath, before addressing the question more directly: «You know, I might have made a mistake a few months ago. In wanting to stubbornly not commit to something more, with you. I admit that I was afraid. Of being afraid even now, Jean-Luc.» She looked him in the eye, trying to explain simply what had really kept her from putting herself out there; for his part, he did nothing to force her, instead allowing her time to process what she wanted to tell him.
She plucked up the courage to continue: «I don't know what will happen between now and twenty-five years from now, I don't know if you will really be affected by Irumodic Syndrome or not, and I don't know if we will get married or not. There's a lot I don't know, but if it's still OK with you, I know I want to give it a chance.»

Jean-Luc Picard smiled to himself: the conversation, strange as it was, did indeed have the aspect of a déjà-vu, although the situation they both found themselves in seemed far less tense than the one in his office during the Q-induced crisis management.
Noticing Dr. Crusher's quizzical look, he hastened to return to the topic currently on his plate: «None of us know what will happen twenty-five years from now, Beverly. And no,» she added, «I'm not convinced that the future has already been written. That it's all predestined. I don't know how it will turn out either.»
He smiled gently at her, getting up and approaching her. He took her hands between his own, making her stand up in turn and added: «Beverly, my feelings have not changed in these months. It will be very difficult, I think, for them to change. I cannot deny that your rejection a few months ago hurt me, but,» and here he gently squeezed her hands, «I would have waited as long as you needed me to. But I am just as ready to give it a chance.»
She returned the smile of the man in front of her, relieved. She had never believed that Jean-Luc would really wait for her: she had been particularly firm in her decision not to pursue a love affair with him, hurting him deeply. The fact that, in spite of everything, he had stood firm in his feelings for her and was willing, after all that time, to really give their relationship a chance exalted her.
She freed her hands from his grip and slipped into his arms, smiling and finally relaxing when the man gently pulled her close. A feeling of warmth and security enveloped her as his arms tightened, protective.

In the mirror placed next to the replicator, exactly in front of him, Jean-Luc Picard saw the reflection of the two of them embracing, finally finding each other after having searched for so long, for so many years. He looked away and was enveloped by the long red hair of his... colleague? friend? companion?
He searched for the right term, but without really finding one that would suit him well enough, deciding that it was not the case at all to provide a definition: the future would find more suitable words.
He paid no further attention to the reflection, consequently failing to see Q's face, right inside that mirror, smiling smugly and disappearing with a snap of his fingers.