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Beauty and the Q

Chapter 1: Beauty and the Q

by WhoaNellie

Title: Beauty and the Q
Author: Whoa Nellie (whoa_nellie40@hotmail.com)
Series: TNG
Rating: PG
Codes: P/ Vash, Q, crew
Synopsis: Q tries to persuade Vash to leave Picard and travel the Universe with him. The entity places Picard and Vash in the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. Can Picard convince Vash to stay with him?

Author's notes: This story was first posted to ASC Jan 9, 1999 and occurs in the Whoa Nellie universe "Double Entendre" timeline, accepting all TNG canon through the movie "Generations" while adding Vash (from the TNG episodes 'Captain's Holiday' and 'Qpid') onboard as the ship's chief archaeologist.

Feedback is always appreciated - posted or e-mail.
As always: Paramount owns all the marbles, we just have a lot more fun playing with them.

Whoa Nellie's Star Trek Fan Fiction Stories
https://sites.google.com/site/whoanelliestartrekfanfiction/


Beauty and the Q

"Jean-Luc, I really think the two dozen, long stem, red roses in my lab this morning along with the expensive bottle of perfume and the champagne lunch this afternoon were enough for any one birthday." Archaeology Councilmember Vash, the head of the archaeology department on the Enterprise E, smiled across the dining table in the captain's quarters. She looked down at the lit candles on the small, round birthday cake in front of her.

"Indulge me and blow out the candles, so I can give you the rest of your birthday surprises," Captain Jean-Luc Picard coaxed. Having just finished cleaning up their early dinner, he moved to stand behind her chair.

"As much as I love the tokens of affection," Vash gazed up over her shoulder at him, "And I do love the tokens of affection. Women, as they approach my age, don't really want to make a big deal out of getting older."

Arching an eyebrow, Picard admired the young, lovely brunette sitting at his table. The soft velvet of her dress clung to the delicate frame of her feminine silhouette down to her tiny waist before flaring into a full skirt that flowed to her ankles. The low-scoop neckline of the dress provided an enticing view and the sapphire-blue color of the velvet emphasized the color of her sparkling, blue eyes. He chuckled, "Your age? Ma chere, I happen to be the December in this May-December romance."

Vash openly appraised him. With his handsome, chiseled features, steel grey eyes, and sleek, muscular build, Jean-Luc Picard was pure masculine virility. The fact that he was bald, except for the closely trimmed grey hair at his temples, only served to add to his natural commanding presence. Dressed in his uniform, he was as dashing as any fairytale knight in shining armor. Impishly, she baited him, "December? No. Mid-September, maybe."

Giggling, Vash squirmed slightly as Picard retaliated by reaching down to briefly tickle her. He scolded her, "That's quite enough young lady. Just blow out the candles, please."

"Aye, sir," Vash quipped before turning back to blow out the candles on the cake.

Leaning down to speak softly in her ear, he asked, "Which would you prefer next, cake or token of affection?"

Vash's insides turned upside-down at the sound of his bedroom baritone whispering in her ear. She wondered if he knew that his deep, sexy, resonating voice sent female pulses racing all over the ship. She had actually seen women turn up their commlinks during his ship-wide announcements and it was not because they were interested in the details of the announcements. She glanced at him coyly out of the corner of her eye and cooed, "The token of affection, please."

Reaching up, Picard carefully pushed the cake to the center of the table. "Close your eyes and no peeking." He waited until her eyes were closed and then placed her surprise on the table in front of her. He was glad she had chosen the gift first. He could hardly wait to see her reaction. "Now, open your eyes."

Vash opened her eyes and gasped as she recognized the styling of the long, velvet jewelry box in front of her. Her voice quavered slightly, "Jean-Luc, This is from Cartier."

"Their Paris location, to be precise," Picard whispered low in her ear again. "Open it, ma chere."

Vash's hands trembled as she picked up the box to open it. Her breath caught in her throat and her heart skipped a beat as she saw the necklace and matching bracelet inside. The choker-length necklace was a series of the most vividly blue sapphires she had ever seen. Each sapphire was approximately a carat and surrounded by small, fiery diamonds. The matching bracelet was the same design, only the sapphires were smaller, about a half carat each. Stunned, all she could do was gasp, "Oh Jean-Luc."

"I take it that means you like them," Picard teased, very pleased with himself.

"Like them? I love them," Vash breathed as she ran her fingertips over the glittering gems. Tearing her eyes away from the jewelry, she looked up over her shoulder at Picard. "They are absolutely exquisite. I've never seen anything so beautiful."

"Look in a mirror. They were the most beautiful pieces in Cartier and they still pale in comparison to you," he told her as he softly brushed her cheek with the back of his fingers. Seeing her blush at his compliment, he asked, "Would you like me to help you try them on?"

Vash could only nod. After picking up the necklace, he pushed her hair to one side. She felt the warmth of his strong hands as he placed the necklace around her slender, graceful throat and fastened it. Taking her hand, he helped her out of the chair to stand in front of him. Reaching down, he picked up the bracelet and fastened it around her wrist. He raised her hand to his lips, placing a courtly kiss on the back of her hand. Letting go of her hand, he reached up to tenderly cup her cheek in his palm. As she peered up at him shyly through her lashes, Vash finally managed a very subdued, "Thank you."

"Happy birthday, ma chere," Picard whispered, using the hand cupping her cheek to bring her face to his for a deep, romantic kiss. As his lips claimed hers, he felt her arms come up to circle his neck and her body melted against his. Even as she returned his passion, he could feel her impatience. He pulled back slightly, breaking the kiss. With an indulgent smile, he gestured toward a small mirror on the wall behind his desk and sighed, "go on, go play with your new baubles."

With a squeal of pure delight, Vash scampered across the room to the mirror. Looking in the mirror, she studied the way the sapphires and diamonds in the necklace reflected the light in the room. As Picard walked over to her, Vash toyed with the sapphire that lay at the hollow of her throat, "Is this why you asked me to wear this dress?"

"That," Picard settled himself in his desk chair and watched as she continued to admire her new jewelry in the mirror. "And I just happen to really like that dress on you."

"I should hope so. You bought it for me," Vash quipped. Still marveling at her birthday present, she remarked, "They look like violets in new-fallen snow."

"That's quite poetic. Data would be impressed," Picard told her with a small nod of approval.

"Speaking of friends," Vash turned from the mirror to face him, keeping her tone casual. "Beverly, Deanna and I have been working on preparations for a ship dance next Friday night. We decided to do a costume party on the holodeck, because everyone seems to really enjoy those. We had several ideas for the theme. Will suggested an American Civil War theme complete with Union and Rebel officers and Southern belles. Data suggested a Louis XIV theme with a ball taking place in the palace of Versailles. We decided to go with Beverly's idea of a mid-twentieth century-style school sock hop with poodleskirts, saddle shoes, ponytails, and pompadours."

Picard already knew where this conversation was going and he was prepared for it. "What made you ladies decide on that theme?"

"Well, I hate to burst your bubble here, but we decided to just leave you out of the whole equation. It's hard enough to drag you to these things anyway and the only costumes you'll even consider are either military, Sherlock Holmes or Dixon Hill." Vash placed her hands on her hips as she continued, "To be quite frank, we ladies have had all we can digest of pouring ourselves into those bloody corsets, crinolines, and petticoats. Bobbysocks, ponytails, Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly just seemed like a lot more fun to us. Lieutenant Lefler helped us program the holodeck to recreate a old-style high school gym decorated with crepe paper, streamers, and balloons."

"I see," Picard replied, somewhat distracted. While she had been talking, he had started to search through a cabinet behind his desk for something. 'Merde,' He thought to himself, 'I just dug the thing out yesterday.'

"It's going to be a really good time with great food, fun music and dancing. You're an excellent dancer, so why you don't like to dance at social functions is totally beyond me. Of course, you know how I absolutely love the jitterbug," Vash persisted, trying to keep his attention. As she watched him root around in the cabinet, she asked, "Are we going Friday night?"

Picard could hear the almost schoolgirl-like hesitation in her voice. The tone was so utterly adorable that he found himself unable to keep from baiting her further on the subject, "Going where, ma chere?"

"Jean-Luc!" Vash huffed and stomped her foot.

Finally finding the small black box he was hunting for, he closed the cabinet. Setting the box on the desk, he sat back in his chair and chuckled, "Of course I'll take you to the dance. So, you can go ahead and pick out your saddle shoes and poodleskirt. However, I prefer not to go in costume." Holding out his hand, he coaxed, "Come here."

Vash took his hand and he gently pulled her down to sit across his lap. She leaned in and placed a quick kiss on his cheek. "Thank you, Jean-Luc. It means a lot to Beverly, Deanna, and I. We've done a lot of work on this."

"I know," Picard brushed a stray lock of hair from her face. "I signed the requisition forms for it yesterday morning."

"Oh, you're really rotten," Vash complained as she playfully swatted at his shoulder. "You knew about it and had planned for us to go all along."

"That's right," Picard told her with a self-satisfied smile. He easily caught both of her wrists in one of his large hands, holding her small hands still against his chest. "And in keeping with the school sock hop theme, I found something that I thought you might like to wear to the dance."

After Picard released her hands, Vash slid one of them up the front of his uniform jacket to leisurely trace the rank pips on his collar and cooed. "Really, and what is that?"

Picard reached over to the box on the desk and opened it. Handing what was inside to her, he answered, "just this."

Vash smiled as she studied the item. Slipped on a long gold chain was a man's gold signet ring with the emblem for Starfleet Academy carved on the top. Etched on one side of the ring was the year 2327 and 'Class Valedictorian.' The other side was etched with symbols for Command, Archaeology, and Track and Field. The inside of the ring was engraved with the initials JLP.

Holding the ring up for inspection, she inquired impishly, "This wouldn't happen to be the actual Academy ring of the legendary Captain Jean-Luc Picard would it?"

"It would." He placed one large hand at the small of her back, feeling the soft velvet of her dress beneath his fingertips.

Sitting sideways across his lap, Vash crossed her legs and teased, "Well, well, well. Now, I would have expected that this would have been the trophy of some pretty, little thing years ago."

Picard shook his head, "No one has ever had it."

Vash arched her eyebrows in surprise, "Are you telling me that you've never asked any sweetheart to wear this to show she was yours or to remind her of you until you returned planetside?"

"Honestly, I was never serious enough about any one woman to ask that," Picard explained, looking down at the ring and then up into her lovely eyes. His face flushed slightly as he quietly admitted, "Until now; I'd like you to wear it."

"I'd love to," Vash whispered, completely charmed by his offer and seeing him blush. She leaned in and pressed her lips to his in a sweet, lingering kiss. After breaking the kiss, she sat up straight and toyed with the ring. Her blue eyes sparkling, Vash affected the tone of a naughty schoolgirl, "Johnny Picard is this your way of saying I'm your steady girl?"

"I believe that is the accepted, traditional interpretation," Picard replied with a small, self-deprecating smile.

"Oh Johnny, you are about to get so lucky!" Vash purred as her arms slid up around his neck with the ring still clutched in one of her hands. She quieted Picard's chuckle by covering his lips with hers in a smoldering kiss. His muscular arms wrapped around her tiny waist, pulling her tightly against him as he deepened the kiss. Vash's body melted against Jean-Luc's as she lost herself in the strength of his warm embrace. Suddenly, she sensed another, but very familiar, presence in the room. 'It's been several years, why now?' Vash groaned inwardly.

Picard felt Vash stiffen in his embrace. Before he could break off the kiss to ask what was wrong, there was a bright flash of light. A well-known voice--too well-known in Picard's opinion-- taunted them with, "don't the two of you have anything better to do with your time?"

Breaking the kiss, Vash buried her face into Picard's shoulder and whimpered, "Make him go away."

"I'm certainly going to try," Picard said softly into her hair. Looking up, his deep voice resonated with authority as he addressed the intruder, "Go away Q. I'm busy."

"How presumptuous, mon Capitaine," Q settled himself comfortably on the couch as he rebuked Picard. "What makes you think I'm here to see you?"

Picard discreetly signaled Vash by silently patting her twice with the hand he had on her hip. Vash slid gracefully out of his lap to stand next to his chair. Standing up, Picard demanded, "Cut to the chase, Q. What do you want?"

"Actually, I'm here to see the lovely mademoiselle," Q smiled suavely at Vash before turning back to Picard.

"Wrong answer," Picard ground out as he braced his hands flat on the desktop and leaned menacingly toward the entity. Feeling Vash's small hand resting gently on his upper arm, he looked back at her. She gazed up at him with an appreciative, but definite 'Down boy' expression.

"It's not as if I've never dealt with him before," Vash quipped, trying to calm Jean-Luc down. He seemed as if he was about leap over the desk and strangle Q.

Straightening up, Picard took a deep breath and nodded, "You're right, of course."

"Besides, what were you planning to do, take a swing at him?" Vash teased as she gestured toward Q. "It's not real effective. Just ask Captain Sisko."

Picard's eyebrows went up with amusement, "Ben Sisko punched Q?"

"Hit him with a pretty wicked uppercut to the jaw," Vash noted gleefully as she patted Jean-Luc's arm. She moved past Picard to stand in front of the desk. Folding her arms, she leaned back against the desk and regarded Q. "All right, what do you want this time?"

"I felt a visit was long overdue, my dear," Q said in a casual tone. "I had a couple of decades free and I thought we might take a quick twenty or thirty year spin through the Universe."

"No; been there, done that, not the least bit interested in doing it again," Vash shook her head no. "I'm not going anywhere, Q."

Q acted as if he hadn't heard a word, "Now, where should we go first? I know a delightful little planet in the Delta quadrant that has four moons and the most outrageous festivals for each one."

"Oh omnipotent one, what part of 'no' didn't your pea-sized brain understand, the N part or the O part?" Vash reiterated sarcastically. "I'm staying right here with Jean-Luc."

Standing up and walking over to Vash, Q's tone was indignant. "You would rather stay here with him than tour the universe with me?"

As he towered over her, Vash didn't even flinch, "Well duh!"

"Here! With Starfleet's errand boy!" Q boomed, "Woman, do you not understand the time you spent with me has made you consort for a king!"

Picard leaned against the desk toward Vash and commented, "Bernard Shaw."

Vash smiled fondly at Picard and nodded in agreement. "Act five of 'Pygmalion.'" Turning her attention back to Q, she replied sweetly, "Now Q, if I may paraphrase Eliza Doolittle's response, Johnny loves me, that makes him king enough for me."

"Oh please," Q huffed in contempt, "Give me one good reason why you would rather stay here instead of exploring the universe with me."

"For starters," Vash glanced back at Picard appreciatively. Squeezing the academy ring still hidden in her grasp, her expression and tone became coyly suggestive, "Jean-Luc doesn't need the power of the continuum to make the earth move beneath me."

"Vash," Picard mouthed under his breath, stunned but also a little flattered.

"Oh, I see," Q said with a sneer. "Tell me, mon Capitaine, does your charming, little courtesan have her own quarters. No, you probably keep her right here, easier for her to service the king."

"Q," Picard low snarl was cold and dangerous. He saw Vash's 'calm down' look, this time he ignored it. He would allow no one, not even an entity as powerful as Q, to talk about her that way. "Councilmember Vash is the head of this ship's Archaeology department. And yes, she has her own quarters."

"Semantics. For all your blustering about my needing to 'guarantee her safety,' you go and turn her into a kept woman," Q taunted Picard. Both were startled by Vash's interruption.

"A kept woman? Q, don't be absurd. Jean-Luc Picard is a seasoned explorer, noted scientist, and respected interstellar diplomat. An officer and a gentleman, he is Starfleet's most experienced field commander and the captain of the Federation's flagship," Vash remarked as she slowly sauntered across the room to the couch, her long, full skirt flowing around her legs as she walked. Gracefully sliding onto the couch, she stretched herself out like Cleopatra on a golden litter. The blue velvet of her dress softly veiled her feminine silhouette, the skirt spilling over the side of the couch. Admiring the bracelet on her wrist, Vash looked up at them through her lashes. Her eyes sparkled with mischief as she added, "I'm a very, well-kept woman."

It was obvious to Picard that Q was miffed by Vash's rejection of his offer. It was also obvious that Vash was enjoying herself. She had spent almost two years with Q, and it seemed she had become a master at poking the entity's buttons. Picard had to admit, if it weren't for the fact that Q was so powerful and so unpredictable, he would also be amused by the whole scene. However, at the moment, he would be satisfied just to get through this without having to declare a red alert.

"He's a primal beast," Q uttered with disgust.

"If I'm lucky," Vash purred with a sly smile from her spot on the couch.

"As you wish," Q replied, before disappearing in a flash of light.

Picard made his way over to sit down in the easy chair next to the couch. Rubbing the bridge of his nose, he sighed, "This isn't over. He'll be back."

"You think?" Vash gasped with mock surprise.

Remembering Vash's reaction just before Q appeared, Picard asked, "Are you able to sense him?"

"Only a second or two before he decides to show up," she explained. "Which isn't very helpful."

With gentle exasperation, Picard muttered, "make the earth move? a very, well kept woman?"

"Sorry darling," Vash giggled, not sounding the least bit remorseful. "I tend to have this knee jerk reaction to him."

...................................................................

After another flash of blinding white light, Picard rubbed his eyes and reflected on just how annoying he found that particular Q-phenomenon. As things came into focus, he surveyed his surroundings. No longer in the easy-chair in his quarters, he was sitting in a large, mahogany chair. The surrounding room, with its dark stone walls, heavy mahogany furniture, thin windows and elaborate tapestries, looked to be a tower bedroom in a gothic castle. He found himself dressed in nineteenth century clothing: a black evening jacket open to reveal a grey waistcoat with a crisp, white shirt and a perfectly tied, white linen cravat. Black breaches and shiny, leather boots finished off the costume. Picard turned to see Q, dressed as a Starfleet Admiral, leaning against one of the posts of the huge four poster bed and he sighed with disgust, "Q."

"I find Vash's actions totally perplexing. To choose to stay with you, when she could go with moi?" The entity made a slightly dismissive gesture toward Picard with his hand, "Oh, I'm sure the typical human female finds you quite the dashing hero. However, Vash is more complex and certainly more intelligent than the typical ploding human."

"If that's your way of saying Vash is more intelligent than I am, I agree. I think she's brilliant," Picard answered with a smile. "You really do find her, as your Sheriff of Nottingham character put it, intriguing, don't you?"

"I simply don't understand why she would pass up an opportunity to explore the universe with me to explore the bowels of humanity with you," Q huffed.

"So, that's what all this is about." Picard stood up and faced the entity, "Vash chose to stay with me and now you're jealous."

"That's absurd, Picard!" Q sputtered.

"Is it? You spend quite a bit of time with us lowly humans taking on our form. Didn't occur to you that over time you might start to take on some of our characteristics too?" Picard asked the entity.

"Impossible," Q retorted arrogantly.

"I don't think it's impossible; in fact, I would say it's quite probable. You've admitted to finding Vash intriguing. She is a very beautiful, alluring woman and you spent two years with her in, I assume, your present human male form. Your reactions have been very much those of a spurned suitor." Picard's face showed almost open amusement. "From the moment Vash and I started our relationship, I realized there would be the occasional suitor vying for her affections. Civilian scientists, dignitaries, younger officers, even a few fellow ship captains have made overtures. I have to admit, it never occurred to me that you would be one of them."

"Captain, do you really believe you could pose any real challenge to me in a rivalry for her affections?" Q asked mockingly.

"It has nothing to do with challenging you," Picard reasoned calmly. "It's a matter of choice, Vash's choice. Vash is with me because she has chosen to be with me."

"Her libido has chosen it, you mean," Q countered.

"It goes deeper than that, much deeper than that," Picard informed him.

"Really, mon Capitaine,"Q baited him wickedly. "I wonder if our beautiful archaeologist would still choose to be with you if she didn't find you so heroic looking?"

"What are you up to, Q? And where is Vash?" Picard asked, instantly wary due to the entity's tone. The captain's voice turned to cold steel, as he warned, "If you have hurt her in any way--"

"Relax, mon Capitaine, she is safe," Q interrupted Picard. Smiling, he gestured to a large, ornate mirror hanging on the wall. "If you walk over to the mirror, I will show you the answers to both of your questions."

"All right, Q," Picard started to walk over to the mirror. "I'll bite."

"How apropos, Picard," the entity smirked.

Picard shot Q a quizzical glance just before reaching the mirror. Looking into the mirror, Picard's jaw dropped as he suddenly understood. Reflected back at him from the mirror was a leonine humanoid. A long, tawny mane flowed from the head of a beast; the snout protruded out from the face and sported glistening razor-sharp fangs. In astonishment, he raised his hands to his face watching the creature in the mirror do the same with fur-covered, pawlike hands. Lean, powerful muscles tightened in anger underneath his evening clothes. His own steel-grey eyes glared back at him from the lion-beast in the mirror. Picard's voice was a low growl, "What have you done?"

Q stood behind Picard and smiled into the mirror. Seeming insufferably pleased with himself, the entity chuckled, "I was remembering a conversation where the lovely lady archaeologist described you as a jungle cat."

"I'm sure she was speaking metaphorically!" Picard ground out, knowing Q was taking out of context some innocent, albeit flippant, remark made by Vash.

"I could ask her," Q retorted gleefully.

"Where is she?" Picard hissed.

"Temper, temper, mon Capitaine. Your fangs are showing," the entity baited, then sighed, "Oh, very well."

As Picard watched, the image in the mirror changed to show a room in another tower of the castle. It looked to be a lady's bedchamber with a very feminine decor of elaborate French Provincial furnishings. Vash was reclining on a chaise lounge apparently unconscious, a fact that worried Picard.

Picard turned to glare at the entity menacingly, "Q . . ."

"She's simply asleep," Q interrupted. "Taking a short cat-nap, you might say."

Picard turned back to the mirror. Vash matched her Victorian-like surroundings, dressed in a sapphire-blue satin ballgown and matching heeled slippers. The full skirt of her gown, with its countless layers of satin and lace petticoats underneath, spilled over the sides of the chair to the floor. With every breath, her décolletage flirted from behind a fan of chantilly lace that spanned the deep, square neckline of the gown. The long sleeves of the gown ended with points at her wrists in a flourish of more chantilly lace. The fitted bodice emphasized the full curves of her bustline and her tiny waistline, too tiny in fact.

Picard suddenly realized that Vash was wearing a tightly-cinched corset. 'Q better hope he is truly immortal,' Picard thought to himself. 'Because when Vash wakes up to find her waist cinched in that tight and her bustline pushed that high, she will do her damndest to kill him.' Picard knew the outfit had to be uncomfortable, to say the very least. Nevertheless, he had to admit that she was breathtakingly lovely in it. She looked almost angelic with her hair pulled up into a cascade of soft curls and blue satin ribbons.

Vash brought one arm up to rest across her stomach, with something clutched tightly in her hand. She murmured Picard's name and shifted uneasily in her sleep. Tenderly touching the surface of the mirror, Picard responded with a softly whispered, "On my way, petite amie."

Pulling himself away from the image in the mirror, Picard drew himself up to his most authoritative bearing. As he turned to leave, his tone was curt, "All right Q, you've had your fun. Now, are you going to tell me where she is or do I do a room by room search?"

"She is in the room at the other end of the hallway. But I wouldn't go there just yet, Captain," Q warned. "In your present form you might frighten her."

Picard rolled his eyes, "She's used to your little games and I was planning on identifying myself before she saw me."

"She won't understand you," Q smirked.

"What?" Picard turned back to face Q.

"Are you familiar with your Earth's legend of 'Beauty and the Beast?'" Q asked.

"Of course, it's a classic fairy tale," Picard answered, not liking the direction the conversation was taking.

"The spell trapping the prince in the body of a beast can only be broken by a maiden confessing her love for him. However, that would be much too easy in this case. We simply can't have that, can we?" Q chuckled.

"Oh, of course not," Picard sighed, sounding very annoyed.

"I knew you would agree. So, you will not be able to speak until Vash recognizes you," Q nonchalantly leaned against the wall next to the mirror. Gesturing to Picard's now large, paw-like hands, he added, "You can still wield a broadsword with the best of them, but I doubt anyone would be able to decipher your penmanship."

"Q, I'm not amused! Now, put an end to this little game," Picard commanded.

"I have set the rules and now I have no more control over this little game than you do." Q gazed up at the ceiling of the room. "Vash will probably assume, and correctly so, that Riker and the rest of your little minions are in the village in the valley below the castle. Knowing Vash, she will try to reach them for help. The real question is what dangers lurk in the castle or in the woods between the castle and the village." With that, Q vanished in a flash of light.

"Q!" Picard bellowed. As his leonine roar echoed through the castle, Picard noticed in the mirror that Vash, suddenly awake, had sat bolt upright in her chair and her eyes were wide with fear.

...................................................................

"What was that?" Vash gasped as she stared wide-eyed at her surroundings. Taking in the elaborate French decor of the castle bedchamber, she realized she wasn't on the Enterprise. Unless . . . "Computer, end holodeck program."

Nothing; no beeps, no whistles, the room stayed the same. "Oh well, I knew it wouldn't work but it was worth a shot," she muttered. Of course, there really was only one explanation for her current environment.

"Okay, Q, I know it's you. The jig is up. This place has your name all over it. I'm really not in the mood for this, so, just come on out," Vash demanded loudly. As she drew in a deep breath to huff in exasperation, she was cut short by the pain from a whalebone stay in the corset that dug into her ribcage. Swearing under her breath, she hoisted herself from the chaise lounge and made her way to the ornate cheval mirror. Vash rolled her eyes as she studied her reflection. "Oh peachy-keen, another one of these damsels-in-distress roles."

Vash immediately noticed that the necklace and bracelet Jean-Luc had given her for her birthday were gone. Disappointed by the loss, she wondered what Q was up to this time. Suddenly, she realized that Q had inadvertently left her with the most important gift from that evening. Vash opened her hand and looked down at Jean-Luc's academy ring laying in her palm. She smiled remembering how he had told her that he had never asked any one to wear it and how he blushed when he told her that he would like her to wear it. Jean-Luc Picard, Captain of the Federation's flagship, asking her to be his steady girl by giving her his school ring to wear. The tender affection behind his request made the ring her most priceless treasure. It had simply been the most utterly charming thing any man had ever done while courting her.

Carefully, Vash slipped the ring's gold chain around her neck. The ring lay nestled in the cleft of her cleavage, just below the lace on the neckline of the gown. Looking back up into the mirror, she placed her hands on hourglass curve between her waist and her hips. Numerous layers of lace and satin rustled from beneath the full skirt as she swiveled from side to side appraising the look of the ballgown from several angles. As restrictive and cumbersome as it was, Vash had to admit that the gown was also extremely flattering and very opulent. The luxurious satin and elegant chantilly lace were fit for a queen. The sapphire-blue of the gown was just the right shade to bring out the color of her eyes. Vash took a deep breath and pulled at the corset to try to adjust it. As she did, she noticed the almost indecent amount of her cleavage that seemed to be spilling over the neckline of the gown. Using an age-old trick, she leaned forward slightly and pulled up on the bodice to let gravity help her fall back into the gown. And just in case he was listening in, Vash decided to lodge her complaint, "A corset, Q! I see no reason to have my waistline cinched in until I can't breathe and my bustline pushed up to my eyebrows!"

Deciding that her battle with the corset was a hopeless one, Vash gave a small sigh of resignation and made her way over to one of the long, thin windows. Looking out, she could tell she was in one of three towers on the top of a gothic castle. The castle was high on a wooded hill overlooking a small village in the valley below. Vash thought it was a pretty safe assumption that Q wouldn't settle for tormenting just her and Jean-Luc when he could torment the whole gang. She figured Will and the rest of their friends were probably in the village. She decided to head for the village. The only question was whether or not Jean-Luc was with them? 'This time,' she thought to herself, 'Maid Marion is not sitting on her hands in the tower. She will head to Sherwood herself. Even if my Robin Hood isn't there at least I'll have some help.'

It looked like about five kilometers through the woods to the village. A literal 'walk in the park' for someone trained in field archaeology. Although, ballgowns do not make for good field gear. The walk would be a lot easier if Q just happened to leave a decent hiking outfit in the room's large armoire. 'Oh Vash, if you're going to dream,' she told herself, 'why not ask for a transporter?'

A noise that sounded remarkably like a couple of large wolves howling came from deep in the woods. Vash backed away from the window slightly, "Q if you're taking requests, a starfleet-issue phaser rifle, one of the really big ones that can drop a Nausicaan in one shot, would be kind of nice about now."

"Oh well, I didn't think so," Vash lamented as she headed over to the armoire to see if Q had left her anything even remotely useful.

TBC
..............................................................................

Foreign Phrases:

Ma chere is a French endearment meaning my dear.

Moi is French for me.

Mon Capitaine is French for my captain.

Merde is French for shit.

Petite amie an endearment that is French for girlfriend.



Title: Beauty and the Q
Author: Whoa Nellie (whoa_nellie40@hotmail.com)
Series: TNG
Rating: PG
Part: 2
Codes: P/ Vash, Q, crew
Synopsis: Q tries to persuade Vash to leave Picard and travel the Universe with him. The entity places Picard and Vash in the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. Can Picard convince Vash to stay with him?

Author's notes: This story was first posted to ASC Jan 9, 1999 and takes place in Whoa Nellie's "Double Entendre" timeline. In this story there are indications of the Worf/ Troi relationship contained in that Whoa Nellie timeline.

Feedback is always appreciated - posted or e-mail.
As always: Paramount owns all the marbles, we just have a lot more fun playing with them.

Whoa Nellie's Picard/Vash Romance Fanfiction website:
http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/Galaxy/7926/

Continued from Part 1

Stepping onto the bridge after his dinner break, Commander William T. Riker was having a really good day. He smiled as he surveyed the bridge; everyone was at their usual stations, Geordi at the bridge's engineering station, Worf at tactical, Data at ops, Robin Lefler at conn, and Deanna and Beverly were standing next to the command chair talking quietly. Riker made his way over to the command chair, "Status, Data?"

"Nothing of importance to report, sir," Data replied swiveling in his chair to face Riker. "The hydroponics lab did report a malfunctioning sprinkler. However, Lieutenant Barclay has already effected repairs."

"Very good. I could use a nice, quiet evening." Riker settled back into the center seat. Turning to Deanna and Beverly, he asked, "So, what are the two of you conferring about so intently?"

Both women wore slightly guilty expressions and Beverly glanced up at the ceiling. Deanna shrugged as she admitted, "We were just wondering what the captain got Vash for her birthday."

From his station, Geordi chuckled, "Something tells me you ladies will find out first thing tomorrow."

"Indubitably," Riker added.

Without warning, the bridge was filled with a brilliant flash of light. When the light subsided, Riker found himself, Data, Worf, and Geordi sitting around a table in a very provincial-looking tavern. Riker didn't have the captain's extensive background in history, but he would place the rustic tavern in Europe, somewhere between Earth's seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. All four men were dressed as rogues from the same time period. Beverly and Deanna were each sitting on an arm of Riker's chair and Robin Lefler was seated on the arm of Data's chair. All three women were dressed as barmaids, wearing pink and white gingham dresses complete with crinolines, tightly-cinched corsets, and plunging scoop necklines. As he closed his eyes, Riker let his head fall against the back of his chair with a slight thud, "So much for my nice, quiet evening."

"Sir," Data spoke up. "That flash was indicative of the Q Continuum. It is reasonable to assume that Q is responsible for our current environment."

"Thank you, Commander," Riker opened his eyes and fixed his gaze on Data, "for that update from the Department of the Obvious. The question is what is Q up to?"

"It's a good bet that it's something designed to really annoy the captain," Geordi guessed.

"Vash," Worf huffed. Noticing that Riker had turned toward him, he leaned forward in his chair, "Q has no honor. He will make the battle personal."

"But why assume it will have something to do with Councilmember Vash?" Lefler asked.

"Because she is Captain Picard's mate," Worf replied pointedly.

"And I'm sure she would be so flattered to hear it put just that way," Beverly chuckled. Her smile faded as she admitted, "But, I think Worf's right. Chances are Q's got Vash."

"Sir, Q has shown a singular interest in Vash," Data added.

"Agreed," Riker nodded and then rubbed the bridge of his nose. "All right, we will assume that both the captain and Vash are involved. Now, the question is where are they?"

"A better question to start with would be 'where are we'?" Robin interrupted.

Riker looked around the tavern, spotting the innkeeper behind the bar, he yelled, "Innkeeper, my good man, more ale here."

Instantly the innkeeper was standing next to Riker's chair with a pitcher of ale, pouring some into a glass. "And would you like some information to go with that ale, good sir?"

Startled at the familiar voice directly above her perch on Will's chair, Deanna lost her balance and fell into Riker's lap. Looking up, she realized that the familiar voice belonged to none other than Q.

"Tut, tut, tut, Billy boy, wenching already? And with another man's wench to boot," looking over at Worf he amended, "well, another male's wench, anyway."

"Q," Riker huffed as he helped Deanna to her feet.

"You and your captain have an amazing talent for turning my name into a profanity," Q commented dryly.

"Where is he?" Riker jumped in quickly.

"I thought you wanted to know where you were?" Q baited.

"Okay fine, where are we in relationship to him?" Riker ground out between clenched teeth.

The entity looked nonchalantly around the room "Oh, I'm sure he's prowling around somewhere nearby?"

"Where is he?" an already-frustrated Riker sighed impatiently.

Ignoring Riker's question, Q leaned cozily against Data scootching Lieutenant Lefler into Data's lap, "Have you heard the local tales about the castle on the hill? It seems it is occupied by a fearsome beast." Giving a sidelong glance at Worf, Q added, "I don't mean you, Klingon."

Worf growled deep in his throat.

Q ignored him and continued on with his story, "Coincidentally, another stranger had appeared in the area recently and is at this moment becoming quite familiar with one of the tower rooms. She is a lovely, dark-haired maiden with eyes of the brightest blue."

Jumping on the description, Riker eyes narrowed, "Q, are you saying that Vash is in the castle?"

Q rolled his eyes in mock frustration, "Is the turbolift stuck between decks again, Commander? Come on, work with me, Billy. Work with me."

Q had quickly found Riker's last nerve, "All right, how do we get to her?"

"If you go due east through the woods you will find a winding road that leads up the hill to the castle." Q gave Riker a challenging look and gloated, "The real test will be getting to her before the beast does." In a bright flash, Q vanished.

"Terrific," Riker grumbled to himself.

"That does answer the question of Vash's whereabouts," Data noted, "However, we still do not know the captain's location."

"We must find him," Worf deep baritone rumbled.

"No, Vash is our first priority," Riker stated firmly. "First, she is a civilian and her safety is our responsibility. Second, Do you really want to face the captain if we haven't secured her safety yet?"

"I see your point," Worf conceded, not relishing the idea of facing Picard without Vash safely in hand.

"Okay, we're going to need provisions," Riker began as he looked around the table. He spotted Lefler still sitting in Data's lap, "Lieutenant?"

"Sir?" the pretty brunette met his gaze.

"Is there any particular reason why you are still sitting in Commander Data's lap?" Riker asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Yes, sir," Lefler answered without the slightest flinch or hesitation. "I reasoned that it would behoove me to stay put while 'the big boys' were engaged in a spittin' contest."

"Not that Commander Data minds, sir," Data interjected lightly.

Behind him, Riker heard Crusher and Troi both trying to stiffle a giggle. Ignoring Data's comment, he found he really couldn't argue with the young woman's logic. "That was probably a wise choice. However, the spittin' contest, as you put it, is now over. I think you can get up."

"Yes, sir," Lefler replied.

"Oh thank you, sir," Data quipped as he helped her to her feet.

"I want to get underway within a half hour. Everyone gather what supplies you can," Riker ordered, again ignoring Data's sarcasm. Then he noticed that only he, Worf, Geordi, and Data had swords. Gesturing to the women, he added, "The three of you need to procure something that can be used as a weapon."

Twenty minutes later, they all stood outside the tavern going over the supplies and weapons they had managed to scrape together. The wind was starting to pick up and it was getting colder. All three women pulled brown, woolen cloaks tightly around themselves as Beverly grumbled, "With that stiff wind it feels like late fall in New England."

"It also looks like a storm might be brewing and I'd like to get to the castle and find Vash before it hits," Riker added in agreement. As he swung a crossbow over his shoulder, Riker looked down at a matching set of daggers Troi was holding. Unable to help himself, he quipped, "Nice pair."

"Glad you approve, Commander," Troi bantered back with a straight face.

"Mine aren't as big as hers," Crusher lamented as sheathed her own set of daggers.

"Nobody's are as big as hers," Lefler offered in consolation.

"I think we should get underway," Worf said as he and Riker exchanged a pained look.

"Quickly," Riker agreed. Heading toward the woods, he ordered, "Let's move out."

................................................................

Carefully keeping himself hidden in the shadows of the hallway, Picard watched Vash through the open door of the bedchamber. Hearing her wish aloud for a phaser rifle, Picard smiled to himself at the slight overkill. A type-2 hand phaser would be more suitable for her purpose and she handled a hand phaser much better. Having taken her target shooting on the ship's firing range a number of times, he knew that she found the size of a phaser rifle a little unwieldy. Her skill with a hand phaser was a very different story. She was good, real good. Vash had spent years traveling alone through the galaxy as a field archaeologist. Picard had a sneaking suspicion that she had, during that time, carried a phaser of some sort for her own personal protection. Knowing the galaxy as he did, he secretly hoped she had. He just didn't ask.

He checked the large broadsword and stiletto-styled dagger he had found. Not as good as a phaser, but they were the best defense available to them at the moment. He planned to give Vash the dagger, while he kept the much heavier broadsword. Unsheathing the dagger, he looked down at the gemstone-studded hilt. The sight of the weapon in his large, paw-like hand reminded him of his current physical form. Picard still had no idea how he was going to communicate his identity to Vash. However, his immediate concern was how to get the dagger to her without terrifying her.

Picard brought his gaze back up to Vash. She was rummaging through the room's large armoire, tossing articles of silk, satin, and lace into a pile behind her. Obviously uncomfortable, she would pause briefly to stand up straight with her hands on her hips and take a couple of deep breaths before continuing. Picard knew he could span her entire waistline with his hands normally, she certainly did not need that awful corset. Standing in the shadows, he was struck by how delicately feminine she seemed. The hourglass lines of the ballgown combined with her tiny frame gave her the appearance of an exquisite porcelain doll. 'A porcelain doll,' Picard reminded himself with a wry smile, 'that once took me with my own sword.'

Suddenly, Vash pulled out a cloak, the heavy brocade material was the same sapphire blue as her dress and the hood was trimmed in snow white marabou. As Vash examined the garment and walked over to the mirror, Picard could hear her mutter to herself, "This is gorgeous, but totally impractical. Of course, it's the only thing in here heavy enough to keep me warm so I guess it will have to do."

Vash stood in front of the mirror, pulling on the cloak. She stopped and just stared at her reflection. Reaching up, she grasped something hanging from a chain around her neck. Picard realized it was his academy ring. Clutching the ring, she whispered, "I love thee to the level of every day's most quiet need, by sun and candlelight."

Picard's throat tightened with emotion as he heard Vash quote Elizabeth Barrett Browning. He watched as she let go of the ring to adjust the cloak more securely around her. She turned from the mirror and headed toward the door. Picard pulled back deeper into the shadows as Vash entered the hallway.

...................................................................

Vash stepped out into the dimly lit hallway. Shadowy alcoves dotted the entire length of the corridor; the only light was provided by candles mounted in elaborate, brass sconces along the wall. She could see intricate tapestries and full-sized suits-of-armor adorning some of the alcoves. Vash started toward an immense staircase that she hoped would lead down to the main floor of the castle. She froze as she sensed, more than heard, someone behind her. Slowly, she turned around to look back. Peering into the darkness, she strained to hear anything other than her own heart pounding and the rustling of her satin skirt. "Q?"

Vash paused, waiting for a response. Hesitantly, she called out, "Is anyone there?"

Again there was no response. Vash took a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves.
She was alone, dressed in very restrictive clothing, in a dark, unfamiliar corridor, and completely unarmed. She was sure that this was exactly the type of situation Jean-Luc was referring to when he would ask her to 'try and stay out of trouble.' With a sigh, Vash turned back around to head for the stairs again. There was an audible thump behind her. The long cloak and the ballgown's many layers of satin and lace swirled around her as Vash did an about-face to look behind her, declaring to the darkness around her, "Okay, now I know I heard that."

She noticed a glint of light reflecting off something on the floor. Making her way over to one of the suits-of-armor, she stooped to get a closer look. Finding a stiletto-styled dagger in it's sheath on the floor, she picked it up to examine it. It was a beautiful weapon with an elaborate hilt studded with gemstones. She reasoned that it must have just fallen off of the suit-of-armor. A relieved, impish smile lit up her face as she regarded the armor in front of her.

"Pssst, hey bud, you drop this?" Vash inquired as she tapped the hollow chest of the suit-of-armor with the hilt of the dagger. Her voice turned teasingly conspiratorial as she confided, "It doesn't look to me like you'll be needing it anytime soon and I could really use it. Would you mind if I kind of borrowed it for awhile? Thanks."

Vash gasped in terror at the reflection in the shiny metal of a fierce beast standing behind her. The suit-of-armor's breastplate distorted the image, but whatever it was, it was definitely large and leonine. Holding the dagger at the ready, Vash whirled around to face it. There was nothing there. Vash slowly backed away toward the stairs. Her eyes never left the spot where the beast had been and her voice faltered slightly, "Look, I don't know who or what you are, but I'll just be leaving now."

Reaching the stairs, Vash carefully resheathed the dagger and quickly headed down the staircase.

..............................................................

Hearing Vash's horrified gasp, Picard quickly pulled back to hide in the shadows. Desperately wanting to reach out to her, all he had managed to do was frighten her. To be so close, yet so removed from her was heart-wrenching. As he watched her slowly back down the hallway, he tried in vain to think of a way to communicate his identity to her. 'Although it wasn't my most brilliant plan, I did manage to get the dagger to her,' he thought to himself in consolation.

Picard cautiously moved forward, cloaking himself in the shadows. He didn't want to risk her seeing him again. The last thing he wanted to do was frighten her further. At the same time, he didn't want to lose sight of her. He was worried that, even with the dagger, she wouldn't be able to properly defend herself. The extravagant ballgown and cloak she was wearing would certainly restrict her movements, hindering any self-defense.

From the top of the staircase, Picard watched Vash bound down the stairs, the skirt of her gown billowing around her with every step. He held his breath, afraid that the elaborate costume she was wearing would cause her to miss a step and fall. Reaching the large landing midway down the staircase, Vash suddenly stopped. Moving silently, he tried to get a better view of what had caught her attention. A French tapestry seemingly from around the seventeenth century, depicting a scene from the life of Alexander the Great, was hanging on the wall. It was reminiscent of one Picard had seen hanging in the library of the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. As he watched Vash make her way over to get a closer look at the tapestry, he smiled to himself. Vash inspected it closely, running her fingers over the image. He knew she was checking the colors, weave, and texture of the material looking for clues to it's authenticity. Here she was in a gothic castle, fleeing from what she believed to be a fierce beast, and she was stopping to study an artifact. Picard shook his head with loving exasperation. You could take the archaeologist out of the treasure-hunt, but you couldn't take the treasure-hunter out of the archaeologist. With a quick glance back up the staircase, Vash pulled away from the tapestry and continued on down the stairs.

Clinging to the concealment provided by the shadows, Picard stealthily followed Vash down the stairs and through the castle. The tapestry was only the first in a long line of artifacts she paused to scrutinize as she made her way toward the large entrance hall and the front gate of the castle. Once inside the entrance hall, Vash stopped to study the large bronze statue of Perseus holding Medusa's head that seemed to be standing guard inside the front gate. She was so engrossed in her examination of the statue, she failed to notice the large terra-cotta gargoyle perched on the archway over her head. However, Picard noticed the gargoyle and the fact that it's mounting was giving way. In that terrifying moment he forgot everything, where they were, Vash's past reaction to his current appearance, Q's game, everything. As he moved out of the shadows toward her, nothing mattered to Picard but making sure Vash was out of harm's way.

"Vash!" Picard tried to shout in warning, but it came out as a leonine roar. Vash spun to face him, jumping back slightly. The gargoyle came down just in front of her, crashing onto the floor between them.

................................................................

The sound of the roar made the hair on the back of Vash's neck stand on end as she jumped back and turned to face whatever it was. A slight involuntary flinch was her only reaction to the heavy gargoyle falling to shatter at her feet. With her blue eyes as wide as saucers, she froze in place staring at the creature in front of her, completely transfixed. The ferocious-looking beast appeared to be part-human and part-feline, actually lion if you wanted to be specific about the feline thing. The odd part was that the beast was wearing formal evening clothes from around the nineteenth century and armed with a broadsword.

After a long moment, Vash finally shook herself back to reality and fled through the front gate, slamming it behind her. As she ran toward the woods, a stray thought crossed her terrified mind, 'He was wearing an evening outfit. The lion was wearing a tuxedo! Either Q is really trying to mess with me or Jean-Luc needs to talk to someone at the Picard Vineyards about that vintage of champagne.'

................................................................

As the front gate slammed closed behind Vash, Picard's eyes remained focused on the spot where she had just been standing. Slowly, his gaze shifted to fix on the demolished gargoyle on the floor. Stepping over to the shattered remains of the gargoyle, he crouched down to pick up one of the shards and inspect it.

Under his breath, Picard growled, "Damn it, Q! It would have killed her!"

"Nonsense, mon capitaine. It would have missed her by a good two inches."

Picard looked up to see Q leaning casually against the bronze statue of Perseus that had attracted Vash's attention. Picard stood up straight to face the entity. He angrily threw the shard to the ground and hissed, "She was almost directly under it when . . ."

"When the good captain panicked," Q taunted, cutting him off. "You panicked, just like at Nottingham castle. You panic whenever the lovely, lady archaeologist is involved. For years, I threw every curve at you I could think of trying to get you to act rashly. Who would have guessed that the only curves I needed belonged to a shapely brunette with blue eyes?"

With that, Q vanished. Picard took a deep breath, working to unclench his jaw. There was no point in denying the truth in what Q had said. Passionately in love with Vash, Picard knew he had become extremely protective of her. He was very aware of the vulnerabilities his relationship with her provided for an enemy to exploit. Vash was also aware of the dangers involved, doing what work she could in her lab and agreeing to very tight security measures whenever she was actually doing any field work. To complicate matters, their relationship had very quickly become public knowledge. The Federation News Network's cameras managed to find them the third time they had appeared in public together, at Starfleet Academy's Commencement Ceremonies. The FNN had a field day reporting how the legendary and very proper Flagship captain had attended the festivities with a sexy, young lady on his arm.

However, Q didn't understand that Picard's relationship with Vash had also become a source of great strength. An accomplished scientist in her own right, Vash was a confident woman with a keen intellect and a razor wit. On more than one occasion, she had given Picard creative and insightful ideas on how to approach a problem. With her vivacious personality, she had quickly become his, as she called it, friendly, approachable face of command in social situations. Vash always made sure Picard remembered to acknowledge marriages, birthdays, anniversaries and other social details. She managed to charm even the most disagreeable of diplomats and handled the media attention, ever present at state functions, with great aplomb. As Picard made his way out the front gate to follow Vash, he realized she had become, in all but name, the perfect captain's wife.

Standing in front of the castle, Picard peered down the road that wound into the woods. Thanks to many years of military commando training, it was going to be fairly easy for him to track Vash while keeping himself out of sight. 'At least lions are stealth creatures.' he thought ruefully as he trekked into the thick brushwood. Using one of his paw-like hands to push aside a patch of briars, he decided one benefit to his current form was that he didn't need a machete to get through the underbrush. It wasn't long before he caught sight of Vash walking along the road. Hiding himself deep in the greenwood, he kept his course parallel to hers.

Picard became aware that something else was following Vash. She must have also realized it. Unsheathing the dagger and holding it ready along her arm, she turned around to peer back down the road toward the castle. Three, very large, wolf-like creatures prowled out of the woods onto the road a short distance in front of Vash. Snarling and baring their fangs, they slowly advanced toward her. Keeping her eyes on the animals without seeming to challenge them, Vash slowly backed off. As he silently unsheathed his own sword, Picard mentally coached her, 'Keep calm. That's my girl, move nice and slow. A canine will sense fear and use the panic to strike.'

The lead animal attacked without warning, lunging at Vash. Bringing up her weapon, she imbedded the dagger in the animal's throat while it was in mid-air. Her elbow deflected the animal off to one side. It fell to the ground dead, her dagger still in its throat. However, the impact of the attack threw Vash back into a nearby tree knocking the wind out of her. Gasping for air, she collapsed to the ground. Even as Vash was fending off the first wolf, Picard struck, his broadsword flashing in the receding moonlight. His first slash caught the next creature in its middle with a dull thud, nearly cutting it in two. As Picard pulled the sword from the body of the second creature, he was struck by the third at full speed. He barely avoided the attacking fangs by a hairsbreath. His sword forgotten, he reverted to instinct. With a roar bordering on a scream that echoed throughout the forest, he attacked. His paws wrapped around the snarling beast, claws extended several inches. The creature fangs snapped at his face as he began methodically shredding its back with his claws. He desperately tried to get at least one paw at the creature's throat. They rolled along the ground in the death struggle, their roars becoming more desperate - becoming shrieks. Picard rolled the wolf onto its back and pinned it against a fallen log with the weight of his body. His paws were caught under the wolf's back. If he let up on the creature to free his arms, it would strike. The wolf frantically snapped at Picard, but was able to only move its head. Picard felt the wolf begin to work itself free. With his arms pinned, he would be at a fatal disadvantage if the creature gained any leverage at all. Putting aside any human inhibitions, he let out a blood-curdling howl, his razor sharp fangs almost glowing in the darkness. With a lightning quick movement he snapped his leonine head down and sank his fangs into the throat of the creature. A gout of blood erupted from the creature, but its death scream was cut short as Picard's teeth sliced through. The wolf struggled for several seconds, then was still. Picard slowly pulled his arms from under the creature's body and rose, his face and mouth completely covered in blood. It took several seconds for the exhilaration of the hunt to subside. His first thoughts were of Vash. He needed to make sure she had not been seriously injured during her struggle with the first wolf. A quick glance at the throat of the final wolf alerted him to how very dreadful he probably appeared just now. For Vash's sake, Picard took a brief moment to clean up from the battle before turning around to check on her.

.......................................................

Vash hit the tree hard and fell to the ground. Slumped over and gasping to breathe, she fought to keep from passing out. Catching her breath after such an impact would have been hard enough, the vice-like corset was making it nearly impossible. She could hear one of the wolves fighting fiercely with something else nearby. Struggling to a sitting position, Vash leaned heavily against the tree to prop herself up. Blood from the wolf she had fended off was splattered across one of her cheeks and her cloak. Opening her eyes, she saw two of the wolves were dead and the third was locked in a fight to the death with the leonine beast from the castle. Hearing the beast's howl, Vash averted her eyes just as the beast's mane descended onto the neck of the wolf. Vash figured the wolf never had much of a chance, cats had always been one of nature's most effective killing machines.

When she looked back up the melee was over and the beast was moving toward her. His movements seemed subdued, almost meek. It was nothing like a fierce predator stalking its prey. At least, Vash hoped it wasn't. At the moment, her dagger was a good distance away. Any movement she made, even to take a deep breath, was painful. Warily, she regarded the beast as he went to the stream that ran just to the side of the path. He wet the corner of his overcoat in the clean water. Moving back to her side, the beast knelt down and began to gently wipe the blood from her face with the wet material. For the first time, Vash looked up into its face, her eyes locking with it. Instantly, she recognized those piercing, steel-grey eyes now filled with loving concern. Suddenly, a number of things started to make sense. Vash brought her hand up to tenderly stroke his cheek, her fingers entangling themselves in the thick mane. Softly, she whispered, "Jean-Luc."

Reaching up to hold her hand against his face with one of his own, Picard nodded. He closed his eyes briefly and swallowed hard. There were so many things he wanted to say to her. Opening his eyes, he picked the one of the utmost importance at the moment. "Are you hurt?"

The voice was distorted by a slight feline rumble, but it was definitely Jean-Luc's. With a small smile, Vash reassured him, "I don't think so. Although, I am a little sore."

"Just a little, huh," he quipped, seeing her wince as she shifted her position slightly.

"How about you?" Vash asked, carefully looking him over. "Did either of those over-grown poodles get in a lucky strike?"

"Just a few scratches here and there, nothing too serious," Picard replied as he cleaned the last of the blood and dirt from her cheek. "I'm more concerned about the fall you took. You handled the dagger very well, but that animal was easily fifty pounds heavier than you. Sorry I couldn't get you the phaser you asked for."

"The phaser I asked for?" Vash questioned, slightly baffled. Then she remembered asking for the phaser while standing in front of the castle window. She gazed up at him affectionately, "Have you been watching over me this whole time?"

Somewhat sheepishly, Picard nodded, "I wanted to be nearby in case you needed my help."

"Always playing the knight-in-shining-armor riding to the rescue of the damsel-in-distress," Vash chuckled, "Why didn't you just say something?"

"Q seems to be in a bit of a jealous snit over us. He set up this ridiculous farce so I couldn't speak to you until you recognized me in this form," Picard huffed, sounding disgusted. His features and tone softened as he teased her, "And you certainly took your own sweet time."

"I'm so sorry, darling. It was all this hair that threw me," Vash cooed in retaliation as she ran her fingers through his mane. The way Picard rolled his eyes in pained exasperation made her giggle. Wincing with the sudden movement, Vash gasped, "Oh, ouch."

"Are you sure you're not hurt?" Picard's anxiety was plainly visible in his eyes.

"Really Jean-Luc, I'm just a little sore," she insisted. "However, when I'm sitting down this confounded corset feels like a tourniquet. Would you help me up, please?"

"Of course, petite amie," Picard gingerly helped her to her feet. For a long moment, he watched her as she stood there leaning back against the tree. Somewhat abruptly, he instructed her, "open up your cloak."

"Whatever for? It's cold out here," Vash exclaimed in surprise.

Picard sighed. Of course, this was the one person onboard who didn't follow his orders. With the forced patience of someone talking to a small child, he explained, "I want to make sure you didn't crack any ribs."

"You're just going to have Beverly check again anyway," Vash huffed in complaint.

"Of that there is no doubt," Picard retorted. "In the interim, humor me."

"You win," Vash sighed, lowering the cloak's hood. She began to undo the clasp that held the long garment shut. The cloak had protected her hair and the elaborate gown from the effects of the fight with the wolves.

When Vash opened the cloak, Picard's breath caught in his throat. Vash stood there with her soft, ivory skin bathed in moonlight. The provocatively-styled gown emphasized the perfect curves of her feminine silhouette. Spanning her tiny waist, he ran his hands up and down her delicate frame as carefully as possible. As he checked her ribcage, he fought to ignore the tantalizing way her chest rose and fell with each breath. With his hands still on her waist, he straightened up, "I don't think anything is broken, but I'll want Beverly to take a good look at you."

"You like it," Vash glared at him accusingly.

"Pardon me?" Picard asked totally confused. His relationship with Vash had taught him never to underestimate the female's ability to lose the male during any given conversation.

"The dress, Jean-Luc," she complained. "You like the dress."

Picard had been in Starfleet long enough by now to know a 'No win scenario' when he saw it. Trying to sidestep the issue, he said simply, "I'm sure it's very uncomfortable."

"But you like the way it looks," Vash challenged. She wasn't letting him off the hook that easily. "Don't you?"

"I would never expect or even ask you to wear something so constricting and uncomfortable. However, since I did not choose your current attire . . . " Picard trailed off as he openly admired the vision of feminine perfection in front of him. His appreciative gaze traveled back up to find Vash's eyebrow cocked in expectation. "The fact that I'm standing here in the form of an enormous lion doesn't phase you in the least. Does it?"

"Jean-Luc, if you are anywhere near a point, please make it."

"Despite my current appearance, I am a red-blooded human male. So yes, I like the way you look in this dress. Actually, I more than like the way you look in this dress," Picard asserted, matching her challenge with his own. His hands still resting gently on her waist, he closed the small distance between them. Staring directly down into her vividly blue eyes, he added, "And I have never seen my academy ring look better."

With vanity quickly overtaking her feeling of righteous indignation, Vash glanced down at the ring nestled in her décolletage. Flirtatiously, she looked up at him through her lashes and cooed, "It does look rather becoming there."

"It belongs there," he told her as he tenderly cradled her in his arms. As Vash snuggled into him, he whispered into her hair, "Je t`aime."

"Je t`aime," Vash murmured contentedly, resting her head against his chest. For a long moment, she closed her eyes and enjoyed the warm security of his embrace. A small smile played at her lips. Quite unable to help herself, she added, "You're purring, Johnny."

Picard sighed, knowing as long as this little charade went on there would be no end to the virtual plethora of cat jokes. Pulling back slightly, he arched an eyebrow and informed her, "Vash, lions don't purr.

"Vash!" Riker's shouted warning echoed through the woods as Data rushed at the leonine beast pulling it away from her. Riker slung his crossbow to over his shoulder as he ran toward Vash. Moving quickly, he swept the archaeologist into his arms, placing her between the tree and his large frame to shield her.

TBC
......................
Foreign Phrases:

Je t`aime is the French phrase for I love you.

Mon Capitaine is French for my captain.


Title: Beauty and the Q
Author: Whoa Nellie (whoa_nellie40@hotmail.com)
Series: TNG
Rating: PG
Part:3
Codes: P/ Vash, Q, crew
Synopsis: Q tries to persuade Vash to leave Picard and travel the Universe with him. The entity places Picard and Vash in the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. Can Picard convince Vash to stay with him?

Author's notes: This story was first posted to ASC Jan 9, 1999 and takes place in Whoa Nellie's "Double Entendre" timeline. In this story there are indications of the Worf/ Troi relationship contained in that Whoa Nellie timeline.

Feedback is always appreciated - posted or e-mail.
As always: Paramount owns all the marbles, we just have a lot more fun playing with them.

Whoa Nellie's Picard/Vash Romance Fanfiction website:
http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/Galaxy/7926/

Continued from Part 2

"No, Data, Don't !" Vash cried, struggling against Riker's protective embrace. She strained to peer around the tall first officer. "The beast is Jean-Luc! "

"It's the Captain?" Riker sounded slightly puzzled. Vash nodded and leaned against him, letting herself relax in his arms.

Data had the beast pinned to the ground. Hearing Vash, he quickly verified the retinal patterns and uttered, "Ooops."

"Ooops indeed, Commander," Picard deadpanned looking up at his second officer.

"My sincere apologies, Captain," Data offered as he helped Picard to his feet.

"It's all right, Data," Picard said, briefly rubbing his own elbow. "Thanks to Q, I'm out of uniform."

"Considerably, sir," Data replied.

"Sorry, sir," Riker looked over at Picard and explained, "We thought Vash was being attacked."

"And you acted accordingly. No need to apologize, Number one," Picard told his first officer. He was amused by the way Vash was now casually leaning against Will, like he was a piece of furniture. "You didn't realize it was me."

"Because I'm such an idiot!" Robin Lefler exclaimed as she and the rest of the crew approached.

"Since I don't normally allow idiots to pilot my ship," Picard regarded the young lieutenant, "would you like clarify that last statement?"

"It was so obvious. When Q eluded to the idea that Councilmember Vash was in a castle with a beast, I should have realized it was you, sir," Robin huffed, disgusted with herself. "*Beauty and the Beast* is one of my favorite stories."

"Lieutenant, I would never have pegged you as the fairy tale type," Riker teased.

"Most women are to some extent," Beverly noted, coming to Lefler's defense. She gestured to the three wolves. "There was obviously a battle of some kind. Were either of you hurt?"

"I'm fine, doctor," Picard replied. "However, one of those wolves threw Vash against that tree pretty hard, knocking the wind out of her. I couldn't find any evidence of an injury but I would like you to take a look."

Still leaning against Riker, Vash rolled her eyes, let her head fall back against his chest and lamented, "You can be such a mother hen, Jean-Luc."

Immediately concerned, Riker peered anxiously down at Vash, "You're hurt?"

"Relax, Sir Lancelot," Vash patted his arm. "I'm fine, just a little sore that's all."

"Do you mind if I make that decision?" Beverly Crusher quipped, making her way over to them. Riker stepped aside to allow the doctor room to check Vash for any injuries.

"There are no cracked ribs, but there maybe some bruising," Beverly informed her.

"See, I told you I was fine," Vash shot Picard a triumphant look as she closed her cloak.

"Vash, you took a pretty hard blow," Beverly cautioned, "I want you to take it easy."

"And, she will take it easy," Picard assured both women, giving Vash his own 'I told you so' look. Noticing that the wind had picked up again, he added, "Number One, since we have no idea when Q will choose to grace us with his presence, I think it would behoove us to head back to the castle and move this little reunion inside."

"Agreed, sir," Riker adjusted his crossbow to a more comfortable position.

"We should also retrieve all weapons, including the stiletto from the neck of that wolf," Picard said as he picked up his broad sword and placed it back into his scabbard.

"Aye, sir," Worf walked past Troi over to the wolf.

As Deanna watched Worf pull the knife out of the dead animal, she grimaced with distaste, "I could have done that."

"You could have," the Klingon admitted. Standing up to face her, he added knowingly, "However, I would've never heard the end of it."

Making his way over to Vash, Picard gestured to her, "Well, come on."

Vash blinked at him confused.

"I'm going to carry you," he told her, although he thought his intent had been fairly obvious.

"All the way back to the castle?" she sputtered, glancing back the way they had come.

"No, I thought I'd carry you halfway back and then drop you in the middle of the road," Picard retorted dryly. He was vaguely aware of Lieutenant Lefler choking down a giggle. "Of course all the way back to the castle."

"Across a room is one thing, Jean-Luc, but I'm much too heavy for you to carry that distance," she insisted.

"Ouch, Vash. That was a verbal trap that no man could hope to escape from," La Forge interjected good-naturedly.

"She excels at them, Geordi," Picard informed his chief engineer as he gazed expectantly at Vash. "Although, I refuse to even dignify that last one with a response."

"My point is that I'm quite capable of walking back to the castle," she huffed.

"I'm sure you are." Picard took a step toward her, again rubbing his elbow. "However, Beverly thinks you should take it easy and . . ."

"Hold it right there, Captain," Beverly placed her hand on his shoulder. "What's wrong with your arm?"

"Nothing, why?" Picard said quickly as he glanced over the doctor.

"You've been favoring it, Jean-Luc," Beverly informed him. "And that is the second time I've seen you massaging it."

"It's just a little stiff from wrestling with that wolf," Picard explained.

"But you were planning to carry Vash back to the castle?" Beverly chastised him.

"Busted," Vash teased before gently adding, "Jean-Luc, is your arm all right?"

He addressed both women, "My arm being a little stiff is the least of my concerns. In case it has escaped your attention, Ladies, I am standing here in the form of a giant lion!"

"Well," Beverly quipped with a wicked smile. "I guess the cat is out of the bag now!"

"Doctor, please," Picard said reproachfully.

"Roar all you want, Jean-Luc," Vash told him, giggling at Beverly's joke. "Once Q has had his fun, he'll change you back."

"Otherwise, it would be a real cat-astrophe," Deanna joined in.

Picard glanced over at his usually soft-spoken ship's counselor and groaned, "Oh, not you too."

"Bottom line; I'm walking back to the castle," Vash stated as she stepped past him toward the road.

Picard watched as Vash gingerly stepped over a fallen log, sucking in her breath and holding her side. Picard turned to see Riker also watching her. Catching Will's eye, Picard met his gaze pointedly. Riker tilted his head ever so noticeably toward Vash. With a slight nod, Picard wordlessly reached out for the crossbow Riker was already handing to him.

Vash gasped in surprise as the tall first officer effortlessly swept her up into his muscular arms. Instinctively, her arms encircled his neck as he carried her. "I suppose arguing now would be pointless."

"Yes, it would," Riker chuckled as he started up the road toward the castle with the rest of the group following them. "And unless you really want to be carried in a less dignified manner, I would behave myself."

"Oh you big brute," Vash retorted playfully. "And why do you always have to side with him?"

"It just happens to be a minor point in his job description, petite amie," Picard called victoriously from behind them.

As they went passed, Vash noticed Riker staring at the body of the third wolf still laying across the log where Jean-Luc had killed it. Riker turned to look down at her questioningly. Letting her head fall to rest on his broad shoulder, she whispered, "Will, do yourself and everyone else a favor, just don't ask."

With a nod, he softly whispered back, "Understood, sweetheart."

.................................................................................

"If these pieces were authentic, it would be the greatest collection of Terran art treasures ever assembled. They seem to be authentic, but, it just doesn't add up. They can't possibly be authentic," Vash ranted as Riker gently set her on her feet inside the large entrance hall of the castle.

"Why couldn't they be?" Lefler innocently asked. Picard and Riker exchanged a quick glance. Here she comes, Vash, the Professor of Archaeology.

"Take this piece, for example, it belongs on the Grand Staircase in Buckingham Palace," Vash explained with the air of an instructor in front of a classroom as she laid her hand on the bronze statue of Perseus holding Medusa's head. She gestured to individual art works around the room, "this piece belongs in the Louvre, this piece in the Smithsonian, this piece in The Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, this piece in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, this piece . . ."

"Professor," Picard interrupted her, "I think we get the idea."

"Jean-Luc, I know the reputations and abilities of all the best thieves of rare antiquities in the galaxy and no one is this good," Vash told him.

"I know," he nodded as he steered her and the rest of the group through an archway into the castle's Victorian-style drawing room. On one side of the room was a Chippendale-style couch and two matching chairs. On the other side of the room another ornate Chippendale-style chair was placed next to the elaborate fireplace that had a roaring fire blazing in it.

"Even Kivas Fajo isn't this good," Vash persisted.

"Kivas Fajo is currently incarcerated," Data noted with a small smile.

"No doubt wishing he had kept to inanimate objects," Vash returned Data's smile. "They are far less likely to plan and execute escape attempts."

"No doubt," the android replied.

"Since we have no choice but to wait for Q. I suppose we should make ourselves as comfortable as possible," Picard suggested as he began to take off his overcoat. To his relief, he noticed that the overcoat had protected the rest of his evening clothes from the effect of his battle with the wolves.

Everyone removed their cloaks and overcoats, laying them across one of the chairs. Vash, Beverly, Deanna and Robin were standing together. Lefler pulled uncomfortably at her bodice, complaining, "Is there anyway to actually get comfortable in these corsets?"

"Taking them off," Deanna answered dryly. "With all four of us helping each other it should only take a few hours."

"Of course, we'd never be able to pour ourselves back into these absurd dresses," Beverly chimed in.

Vash caught their reflection in one of the room's many mirrors. Shaking her head in mild disgust, she gestured to the mirror, "Q has spent so much time in human male form his libido must be kicking in. These dresses and corsets make the group of us look like something out of Chaucer."

"There's a lot to be said for Chaucer," Riker noted as he regarded the women with a smile of appreciation. His smile faded as the four women turned to glare at him very pointedly.

"If you like Chaucer so well, William, just come on over here. The girls and I will be more than happy to use a few whale bones and some rope to see how you like your ribcage cinched up to your eyebrows!" Vash offered icily.

Riker took a cautious step back to stand next to Picard and muttered, "Uh-oh."

"Major tactical error, Number One," Picard chuckled quietly at the sight of his large first officer cowering under the intense stare of four, very formidable women.

Feeling they had sufficiently frightened Riker, the women returned to their conversation. Beverly gestured to Vash and offered teasingly, "I noticed your dress is fit for a queen, while the rest of us look like serving wenches."

"Could it be that our omnipotent friend is sweet on you?" Deanna chimed in.

"Will both of you cut it out," Vash huffed with mock frustration.

"What's that?" Lefler asked, "Is that an academy ring?"

"This?" Vash held the ring out away from her so the rest of them could get a better look.

Lefler peered at the ring, "It's definitely an academy ring, class of 2327, class valedictorian, initials JLP." Realizing who the ring belonged to, her eyes went wide as she sighed, "Oh my."

"It seems Q isn't the only one sweet on you," Beverly said with a glint in her eye. She added playfully, "Does this mean the two of you are going steady?"

"That's the traditionally accepted interpretation," Vash answered with a coy smile.

Noticing the sidelong glances the women were casting at Picard, Riker noted with admiration, "The ring was a nice touch, sir, very smooth."

"Glad you approve, Number One."

"So basically, Professor Vash, all this is because a very powerful entity and the captain are fighting over you?" Lefler offered as she rolled her eyes. "I should be so lucky as to have your problems."

"No Robin," Vash shook her head, "Q and Jean-Luc are not fighting over me."

"Actually, we are," Picard admitted as he walked up behind them. Deanna and Beverly exchanged a quick glance and moved off taking Lefler with them.

The two of them standing alone, Vash admonished, "You and Q fighting over me. Jean-Luc, you can't be serious."

"I'm very serious, ma chere," Picard asserted quietly. "And one look at me tells you that Q is also quite serious. That, and the fact that he doesn't play fair."

"And Q playing dirty is different how?"

Ignoring her sarcasm, Picard theorized aloud, "I guess there is only one way to end this. You're going to have to choose."

"Haven't I already made that choice, before all this started?" Vash quipped.

"Would you make that same choice with me in my current form?" he asked quietly.

Vash reached out to stroke Jean-Luc's fur-covered cheek. On impulse, she moved her hand to scratch under his chin as she responded, "Of course I would. When else could I get such enjoyment from saying 'Here, pussy, pussy, pussy'?" With that she started to flounce over to sit in front of the fire, the queen of her domain.

Taking care to keep his claws retracted, Picard swatted Vash's behind with one massive paw as he growled softly, "Impudent wench."

Reaching the chair in front of the fire, Vash turned to lock her gaze with Jean-Luc's. Defiantly, she swished her skirts before regally seating herself.

"Comfortable, mademoiselle?" Q inquired lightly from his perch on the arm of her chair.

Vash sighed in disgust as she casually shoved Q off the arm of her chair. "No, I'm not comfortable. Couldn't you find a more accommodating period in fashion history to do this charade in?"

"But you're so enchanting in this attire," Q protested from his rather undignified position on the floor.

Vash stood and turned to glare down at him. "Q, you'd better hope that you are truly immortal if you are insinuating that I need a corset!"

"Perhaps antagonizing Q is not the wisest course of action here, Vash," Data interjected, stepping closer to her.

"Advice noted, Mr. Data. Jean-Luc, get me a knife, preferably a big one."

Slightly alarmed at her tone, Q quickly scrambled up off the floor and began trying to placate her. "Of course not, my sweet. You are more beautiful than a thousand supernovas, more enchanting than the birth of a million galaxies, ...."

"Q, muzzle it!" Vash interrupted, hands on her hips. "Unless you really want to test your so-called immortality, I would strongly suggest that you listen up!"

"You have my undivided attention," the entity assured her.

"First, and foremost, change Jean-Luc back," Vash's tone was coldly commanding.

"But, my dear, weren't you the one who referred to him as a jungle cat in a human domicile," Q paused for effect. "Yes, I believe it was a tiger in the . . ."

"Q!" Grabbing a poker from the hearth, she prodded him in the chest none to gently, "Now, Q!"

"Very well," Q sighed waving his hand. With a bright flash of light, Picard was restored of his true form, but he was still clad in the nineteenth century evening clothes. With a exaggerated bow, Q announced, "And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the other way to skin a cat."

"Not so fast, I'm not finished yet," Vash pushed the entity back with the poker as he started to step forward. Not knowing whether to be concerned or amused, Picard realized that Vash wasn't the least bit intimidated by Q. Tapping Q's chest with the poker, she continued, "These damsels-in-distress roles are becoming a bit tiresome. Do you really see me as that helpless?"

"Far from it," Q replied, glancing down at the poker. Looking up, his tone turned conspiratorial, "If you must know, casting you in the fair maiden role is simply a way to bait Jean-Luc. His panic attacks over your safety are so entertaining that I just can't seem to help myself."

Ignoring his last comment, Vash suggested, "Next time, couldn't you find something interesting for me to do? After all, there are plenty of important women in Earth's history to choose from."

"Next time?" Picard sighed wearily.

"Why limit yourself to Earth history?" Q asked, as the poker vanished. He took her hand in his and lifted it to his lips for a courtly kiss. "Come with me, I'll show you things beyond your wildest imagination."

"I'm not going anywhere with you, Q," Vash rolled her eyes as she jerked her hand away. Dropping back down into the chair, she acted supremely uninterested in Q and surveyed the rest of the room. Beverly, Deanna and Robin were standing together toward the far side of the room with Geordi and Worf just behind them. Will and Data stood together just in front of the others. Her gaze fell on Jean-Luc, standing alone near the center of the room. He had taken off the black evening jacket, but still wore the grey waistcoat, white shirt and linen cravat. With his sleek, muscular build and handsome, chiseled features framing those intense grey eyes, he made quite a dashing Victorian aristocrat. When his eyes locked with hers, she blushed slightly under the intensity of his gaze. Demurely lowering her eyes, she gave him a shy smile.

"Ugh," Q groaned with disgust.

"What now, Q?" Vash forced herself to drag her eyes from Picard.

"Is Picard actually what human females find sexually attractive?" the entity asked, sounding repelled.

"Oh yeah!" Lefler blurted out emphatically.

Startled by the enthusiasm of the response, Picard blinked in surprise and turned just in time to catch all three women nodding in agreement. Riker had managed to suppress a grin, but his eyes sparkled with sheer glee. The first officer tilted his head slightly in a salute of admiration to his captain.

"Sorry, sir," Lefler offered.

"But he did ask," Beverly chimed in, not sounding the least bit remorseful.

"I will simply take it as a compliment," Picard responded in amused exasperation. He turned his attention back to Q, "I think this has gone on long enough."

"Afraid you'll lose her to me, Mon Capitaine?" Q asked mockingly.

"It's not a matter of winning or losing to you, Q. It's a matter of choice. Vash's choice," Picard contended.

"A choice I've already made," Vash reminded them both from where she sat in front of the fire.

Reaching down to cup her chin in his hand, Q raised her gaze up to his. "Don't be so hasty, my dear. Hear me out before you decide." Letting go of her chin, he gestured to the archway. "Look out that way and tell me what you see."

"The entrance hall and the staircase," Vash answered wryly. Suddenly, the view began to change.

Q narrated as each scene appeared, "We could go to D'Arsay, the Tkon Empire, Iconia, Iccobar, Dewan, Dinasian, or Kurlan. And I'm not talking about going the ruins of these ancient civilizations. I could take you to see them in their own golden ages."

Vash gasped as she glanced down to see a carpet of priceless treasures appear at one side of her chair. There were rare gemstones, metals, silks, satins, and pieces of artwork from all over the galaxy. As she looked up at Q, he added, "I can take you to anywhere, to any time, give you anything."

Picard observed Q's attempts to win Vash's favor and a small seed of doubt began to germinate. Any dream she had ever had, Q could instantly make a reality. Picard couldn't imagine his life without Vash and he didn't want to. He wondered what could he possibly offer her. Noticing Vash's tight clutch on his academy ring, he suddenly realized exactly what he could offer that Q couldn't. He and Vash had discussed the idea as a possibility for the future. He would have preferred to do this in private, without his entire senior staff as an audience. C`est la vie. Although he had to admit, Q had unwittingly provided him with the perfect fairy-tale setting. Feeling blissfully content, Picard stood there knowing he had the proverbial ace in the hole. His commanding voice resonated as he announced, "Q, I am prepared to counter your offer with one of my own."

"You, a mere mortal," Q hissed. "Don't be absurd, Picard."

Unable to quite keep the smugness out of his tone, the captain replied, "If you are so all-powerful, what do you have to fear?"

"Nothing, humanoid," Q gestured to Picard and sneered condescendingly. "By all means, make your offer."

"Vash," Picard gently beckoned.

Hearing Jean-Luc's voice sensuously caress her name, Vash lifted her eyes to meet his. Appearing completely at ease, he graced her with one of his just-barely-there smiles. As he held her in his gaze, his expression was filled with love, both passionate and tender. The naked emotions emanating from his steel grey eyes caused Vash's breath to catch in her throat and her heart to skip a beat.

"Q is right. He could take you anywhere, to any time and bestow on you all the treasures in the universe," Picard paused for a moment, staring directly into her vivid blue eyes. In a rich baritone, he continued, "All I have to offer you is my love . . . and my name."

Vash could barely breathe and her heart pounded as if it would burst through her chest. Her entire body trembled as she heard the words 'and my name.' over and over in her mind. His eyes never left hers as he slowly walked across the room toward her.

"Oh my God!" Geordi gasped jubilantly under his breath. "The captain's proposing to her."

"This will certainly put Q in his place," Worf rumbled, sounding impressed. Deanna and Beverly exchanged a delighted smile as did Riker and Data.

To no one in particular, Riker whispered, "I'll bet dinner the captain forgets to go down on one knee."

"Oh please, Commander," Lefler whispered back. "You're on!"

"Picard, you can't be serious," Q sounded panic stricken as he realized what was happening. How dare Picard upstage him like this.

Stopping to stand in front of Vash, Picard took a long moment to marvel at the raving beauty. The opulent ballgown skimmed her feminine silhouette to fan out into generous folds of blue satin and white lace as she sat gracefully in her chair. He could see the astonishment on the delicate features of Vash's face as her full, rose petal lips quivered slightly. She blinked back the tears brimming in her blue eyes. Reaching down, he took her hands in his. Picard could feel her small hands trembling in his grasp as he slowly lowered himself down onto one knee in front of her.

"Councilmember Vash, you are my love, my life. I can't remember what my life was like before you entered it and I can't imagine a life without you. Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?" As Picard spoke, the powerful timbre of his voice highlighted the formal proposal of marriage. Tightening his grasp on her hands, he lowered his voice to a deep resonating whisper and urged her, "Please Vash, marry me!"

Overwhelmed with emotion, Vash stared down at the heroic Starfleet officer now on bended knee in front of her. She loved this man with all her heart and soul. Completely devoted to him, Vash had no doubts in her mind about her answer. She had known the answer to that question ever since that first sunny afternoon on Risa. With tears streaming down her cheeks, Vash nodded and managed to whisper, "yes!"

Having felt so calm proposing, Picard was caught off guard by his own strong emotional reaction to hearing her answer. Suddenly, he couldn't seem to catch his breath. His heart pounded as he prayed that he had heard her right. He stood up, his strong hands trembling as they held on to hers. Had she really said yes? Looking down, he searched her lovely face for reassurance. His voice was barely audible as he gasped, "Yes?"

"Yes," Vash repeated in her normal impish tone as she began to recover her composure. She smiled up at him serenely, secretly delighted that 'Captain calm, cool and collected' wasn't at the moment. She simply adored him. Slowly, she stood to face Jean-Luc. Taking her hands from his grasp, she leisurely slid them up the muscular wall of his chest as she gazed into his steel grey eyes. "Yes, Captain of my heart, I will marry you."

Before Picard could respond, Vash took a hold of the cravat and gently pulled his face to hers. His lips were firm but pliant as she sealed her answer with a passionately heated kiss. Moving to deepen the kiss, Picard wrapped his arms around her tiny waist and pulled her tightly against him.

"YES!" Data crowed, leading the entire senior staff in a jubilant round of cheering, applause and whistles.

Hearing the thunderous ovation coming from senior staff, Vash broke the kiss. Resting her hands on the broad, masculine slope of his shoulders, Vash smiled up at Picard and quipped, "I think the kiddies are happy."

"It certainly sounds like it," Picard chuckled, just before his lips captured hers in a brief kiss. Suddenly, he gave her a huge Cheshire-cat grin.

With a surprised squeal, Vash's arms encircled Picard's neck as he effortlessly swept her up into his powerful arms. The full skirt of her gown spilled over his arms as he quickly spun around. Casually, he flopped himself down to sit in the chair by the fire, placing Vash on his lap. Giggling with delight, she covered his face with tiny kisses. He finally calmed her giggles by capturing her lips with his in a fiercely demanding kiss. Breaking the kiss, he glanced down at his academy ring and then back up at her. Quietly, he admitted, "That's not exactly what I had intended to give you as an engagement ring."

"It's perfect," Vash insisted, as she clutched the ring protectively. "I love you. Je t`aime, Jean-Luc."

"Je t`aime, Vash," as he tenderly wiped the tears from her cheeks, Picard vowed softly. "I do love you and I promise that I will make sure you never regret your decision to stay with me."

"Jean-Luc."

"Yes, dear."

Taking his face in both of her hands, Vash teased gently, "Oh my brave Lord of the jungle, I was never going with Q. I never had the slightest intention of leaving your side. We're going to have so much fun together. Grrrrr." She leaned in and gave him another passionate kiss. When he broke the kiss and glanced over at his officers, Vash smiled knowingly, "I was wondering when this would start to push the limits of your PDA tolerances."

"Up you go," Picard chuckled as he placed Vash on her feet. Standing up, he turned to his officers.

"Congratulations, sir," Riker smiled broadly at his commanding officer.

"Thank you, Will," Picard replied as he straightened his waistcoat. Almost as an afterthought, he added, "Oh, Number One."

"Yes, sir," Riker responded, waiting for his captain's order.

"You are to take Lieutenant Lefler to dinner at the Cirrus Chime, which I believe is the most expensive restaurant in this part of the quadrant." Picard threw his first officer a look of mock disdain, "Forget to go down on one knee, indeed."

"It will be my pleasure, sir," Riker answered, giving Lefler his most charming smile.

"Umph!" Q huffed from his spot where he leaned against the fireplace mantel.

Vash turned to him, "Q, how long have you been standing there pouting?"

"Ever since you said 'yes' to Jean-Luc," Beverly chimed in gleefully.

Moving to stand next to Vash, Picard addressed the entity, "It's over, Q."

Q peered at Vash, "You're really going to marry him?"

"Yes, I am," Vash told the entity. She threw Picard a quick flirtatious smile as she felt his arm slip protectively around her waist and his hand come to rest on the small of her back. Looking back at Q, she added impishly, "So fast, it will knock him on his brass."

Ignoring the stifled chuckles of the Enterprise crew, Q fumed at her, "You're turning down my offer, so you can become Picard's trophy wife!"

"Q," Picard ground out dangerously through clenched teeth. He felt Vash turn into his embrace and lean against him. As she reached up and gently laid a hand on his chest, he could almost hear her very wifely, unspoken 'Calm down, darling.' comment.

"A trophy wife, huh? A successful man marrying and pampering a sexy, younger woman as a symbol of his status and power. Boys, I really don't see the problem here," Vash baited as she grinned mischievously at both of them. Giving Picard a reassuring hug, she stepped out of his embrace and walked over to face Q. Standing on tiptoe, she gave Q a quick peck on the cheek, "Au revoir, Q."

As she started to turn away, The entity caught her hand and placed a courtly kiss on the back of it. "Until next time," Q looked pointedly over at Picard before gazing back down at Vash, "Madame Picard."

................................................................

After a flash of blinding white light, Picard found himself back on the bridge of the Enterprise. From his command chair, he looked to his left where Deanna was seated at her usual bridge station. In front of Picard, Lieutenant Lefler was at the conn. Data was seated at ops with Vash and Beverly standing next to him. Everyone was back in uniform with the exception of Vash, who was once again dressed in the softly flowing, blue velvet dress.

"Is everyone here?" Riker called out from where he stood next to Worf at tactical.

"Looks like we're all here, no worse for wear," Geordi answered from the bridge's engineering station. "The question is where is Q? He usually likes to finish things off with one last twist of the knife."

"I'm sure being cast aside for a mere mortal, as Q would put it, was not part of his plan," Vash chuckled as she played with the academy ring that still hung on its long gold chain around her neck. "And when things don't go his way, Q usually takes all of his toys and goes home."

"Agreed," Picard nodded. "Still, Mr. Data, run a level three internal sensor sweep, just to make sure everything is the way it should be."

"Aye, sir," Data paused and glanced back over his shoulder at the captain. "Sir, this will take several minutes to complete."

"Understood," Picard replied, then added, "Lieutenant Lefler, please check our current position to make sure the Enterprise herself is where she is supposed to be."

"Aye, sir." The young woman briefly worked the helm control in front of her. "Current location, course, and speed all check out as agreeing with your last order, sir."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Picard tugged at his jacket as he settled back into his chair.

Vash watched as Jean-Luc adjusted his uniform and situated himself in the command chair, his command chair. He looked every inch the legendary starship captain he was reputed to be. No matter how many times Vash saw it, the sight of him on the bridge always seemed to make her go weak in the knees. Startled, she realized Beverly had said something to her. She turned to her, "I'm sorry, Bev. What?"

Beverly smiled, knowing she had caught Vash staring at Jean-Luc. Gesturing to the diamond and sapphire jewelry, she teased, "Looks like Q left you with a parting gift."

"Not at all," Vash smiled back. "These were a birthday present from Jean-Luc."

Beverly's eyes went wide as she gasped, "They look like they're from Tiffany's."

"Cartier," Vash corrected, with an excited giggle.

"Cartier. The captain buys her jewelry from Cartier," Deanna lamented, then she turned in her seat to stare pointedly at Worf and Riker. "Are we learning anything, gentlemen?"

"I'm sorry," Picard chuckled, "have I inadvertently set a dangerous precedent?"

"No, sir. Just a very expensive one," Riker replied good-naturedly. "Of course, it will also effect you, sir. Vash will now probably want the Hope diamond in her wedding band."

"Oh William, don't be ridiculous," Vash scolded him. She gave Beverly a conspiratorial glance before turning to Picard and adding, "The Hope diamond is cursed, but the Tiffany diamond . . ."

"Uh, no," Picard deadpanned.

"It was worth a shot." Beverly patted Vash on the shoulder. "The two of you do need to pick a date so we can start on the wedding plans."

Picard looked hopefully at his bride-to-be, "Are you thinking of something small and simple?"

"Uh, no, "Vash quipped, repeating his earlier response. Crossing her arms, she regarded him playfully, "I just netted the man the Federation News Network once called Starfleet's most eligible bachelor. I'm thinking of something large and lavish."

Looking up from the conn, Lefler chimed in with, "princess for a day."

"Wrong, Lieutenant," Riker gave his most gallant smile as he gestured toward Vash. "She's going to be queen."

"Captain, I have the results of the sensor sweep," Data interrupted.

"Thank you, Data," Picard sighed gratefully, "Report."

"Sensors show no one missing and nothing unusual has been detected, sir," Data looked up at Vash and grinned. "Long live the queen."

Picard glanced over just in time to see Vash wink at Data. Picard found his full attention riveted on Vash. His eyes slowly traveled over her, the delicate features of her face, her vivid blue eyes, and the way the soft velvet of her dress skimmed the perfect curves of her feminine silhouette.

Vash's gaze returned to Picard. As her eyes locked with his, she noted the telltale hue of his smoldering eyes. The intense steel-grey color always told her when she was in his thoughts. Preoccupied, she reached up to toy with his academy ring.

Picard pulled himself out of the blue of her eyes, seeing that mischievous glint there that always slightly unnerved him. Pulling at his uniform jacket, he stood up to better brace himself for what the little minx was planning.

"I was just thinking about the first time I was ever on the bridge of a starship. It was the end of the tour Will gave me on the Enterprise D," Vash smiled, this was a golden opportunity. "Jean-Luc, when you walked on the bridge a thought occurred to me and it's something I've fantasized about doing ever since."

As he watched her slowly saunter across the bridge toward him, Picard suppressed the urge to call for red alert. His wariness grew as Vash stopped to stand just in front of him. His breath caught in his throat as her small hands glided up the front of his uniform jacket to encircle his neck. He was dimly aware of his bridge crew watching.

Vash stared brazenly into his eyes, her voice a low seductive whisper, "mon Capitaine."

Before Picard could react, her mouth claimed his in a passionately heated kiss. Blood roared in his ears as he felt the lush, fullness of her lips crushed against his own. Forgetting where he was, his lips answered the demands of hers. Instinctively, he wrapped his arms around Vash and pulled her lithe form tighter to him. He could smell the provocative scent of her favorite perfume. Picard deepened the kiss, bringing one hand up to cup the back of her head. He delighted in the feel of her body pressed into his at every point, from the soft roundness of her chest against his to the intertwining of their legs. When Vash finally broke the kiss, both of them were breathless. He suddenly realized they were on the bridge. Fighting down a blush, he gently started to scold her, "Vash."

Vash placed a finger against his lips to silence him. Turning around, she leaned back against the muscular expanse of his chest and looked out over the bridge. "And that, Ladies and Gentlemen," she announced in a very perky tone, "is a public display of affection on the bridge and, therefore, totally against Starfleet regs."

Vash turned back to Picard and unapologetically reached up to wipe her lipstick from his lips, "and I probably speak for every woman onboard when I say it just needed to be done."

**FINIS**

Foreign Phrases:

C`est la vie is a French phrase meaning that is life.

Je t`aime is the French phrase for I love you.

Au revior is French for good-bye; until we meet again.