"We all had our reasons to be there
We all had a thing or two to learn
We all needed something to cling to
So we did
We all had delusions in our heads
We all had our minds made up for us
We had to believe in something
So we did"
-A. Morrissette, "Forgiven"
**1 November 2349, Caldos IV**
Beverly Howard stood out on the moor, staring out at the sunset. She heard a male voice calling to her, but didn't turn around. *I'll be damned if I'm going to answer you now,* she thought to herself. She took a deep breath and sighed. "What are you going to do now, Beverly?" she asked herself quietly. "What kind of mess have you gotten yourself into now?"
"Bev? Honey, are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Jack."
"You sure?" he asked, wrapping his arms around her waist from behind. She nodded slowly. "You don't seem fine, Red."
"I'll be fine. Just give me a little time, okay?" she asked. "I just need to be by myself for a while, figure out what I'm going to do."
"Okay, Red. I'll be back by the house. Jean-Luc is coming back for our last night before we ship out, and Felisa said she's making her famous gingerbread men tonight, just for the three of us." He kissed her cheek softly, then whispered, "Hurry back, okay? I hate seeing you out here alone and upset like this."
Beverly nodded, trying to smile for him. She listened to him leave, then returned her gaze to the sunset before her. Wrapping her shawl tighter about her shoulders against the wind, she began walking toward the edge of the cliff. She looked down on the ocean, waves crashing wildly against the rocks below, then gazed up at the waxing moon. *Why is it You always know how I feel, reflect it in your world?* she thought at the moon, the Goddess she saw there.
**17 October 2369 .. New Moon**
"Beverly? Is everything alright?"
Beverly jumped, startled out of her reverie by that voice. She'd been staring out the viewport, searching.... "I'm fine, Jean-Luc."
"You don't look fine. You look as if you're searching for the moon itself."
Bev smiled ruefully. In a very real sense, she was. "You could say that." At his odd look, she smiled and touched his arm. "I'm fine, Jean-Luc. You needn't worry about me."
"But I do, I always have."
"I know. Jack was like that, too." And she fell silent again.
"What is it?" he pressed on. She knew he'd continue until he got the answers he wanted from her.
"I'm just feeling a bit homesick, I guess. Remembering my childhood, what Nana taught me. And I'm wondering if perhaps I've let her down."
"Let her down?" he asked incredulously. "How could you have let her down? You're a damned fine doctor, Beverly, a competent line officer, and a wonderful mother. How could you have let her down?"
"I don't know. I just feel.... I don't know, Jean-Luc. Maybe I'll go send her a communique, tell her how much I miss her." With this, she stood and walked out of Ten-Forward, leaving the captain behind her.
**18 October 2369**
"Beverly, I think you should come home. Your spirit is all confused right now. You need time to regain your senses, your sense of purpose."
"Don't you 'but Nana' me, Beverly Howard. You know I speak the truth. You have let
yourself fall away from your path...willingly. You come home and we will get you back on the right path, the true path of your birthright."
Beverly thought for a long minute. She knew her grandmother was right, knew that this was all she needed to do to feel better. "Alright, Nana. I'll put in for the shoreleave and I'll be home in a few days."
"Good girl, Beverly. And you bring your pouch with you. I think we need to do some cleansing and purifying of its contents."
"Yes, Nana, I think I have to agree with you on that."
**26 October 2369**
Beverly and Deanna stepped off the transporter pad on Caldos IV, greeted by a spry old woman. Bev hugged her tightly. "Hello, Nana."
"Beverly, child, it is good to see you again. And you've brought company?" The question was asked in a polite way, but both Beverly and Deanna felt the territorial undercurrent.
"Nana, this is my friend, Deanna. She is accepting of our ways, and may be able to help me, us in our endeavor. Deanna, this is my grandmother, Felisa Howard."
"It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Mrs. Howard," Deanna said, coming forward to shake the woman's hand. Instead, Felisa Howard held her face in her wrinkled old hand, staring deep into the Betazoid eyes. After a moment, she pulled back and looked at Beverly, smiling.
"She'll do perfectly, child. I'm proud of you for finding one of this caliber so easily."
"Thank you, Nana," Beverly said, pride shining in her eyes at her grandmother's compliment.
Before Deanna could question them, Felisa led the two women out of the transporter room and on a merry jaunt through town. Finally they arrived at the Howard family home. Beverly took their bags up to the spare bedroom as Felisa busied herself with lighting a fire in the fireplace. Deanna looked around the cozy main room of the cottage, comfort washing over her in waves. She could sense Beverly's anxiety strangely peak, then ebb away.
"Have a seat here by the fire, Deanna. Your delicate Betazoid physiology won't take too kindly to the cold of our Scottish nights."
"But I thought Caldos was climate-controlled," Deanna asked, sitting down where Felisa motioned.
"It is, but it is controlled to recreate life on the Scottish highlands. I hope Beverly had the sense to tell you to pack warmly. Sometimes she can be so forgetful, I wonder at her ability to do as she was brought up to do."
"And what was that?"
"Is Nana going on about me again?" Beverly asked, bounding down the stairs. She'd changed into a pair of jeans and a wool sweater of blue that complimented her eyes perfectly. Her hair was up in a ponytail, making her look much younger than her years. "Really, Nana, you needn't tell *all* my childhood tales," she said, laughter bubbling at the edge of her voice, and plopped onto the floor by the fire.
"I was merely wondering if you remembered to tell your friend to pack warmly. It's obvious she's not suited to our cold Scottish nights, child." Beverly looked sheepish at the admonition. "So you did forget." Bev nodded reluctantly. Felisa shook her head and scrutinized Deanna for a moment. "Beverly, go get the clothes from the trunk in your old room. They should fit Deanna well enough until we go back into town to replicate her some decent clothes," she said, then looked at Deanna. "Go with her, child, and get yourself into something warmer."
Beverly bounded up the stairs, Deanna following her. They entered the bedroom and Deanna stopped in the doorway, stunned by the room. From the outside, the cottage had looked small. This room was rather large, and sparsely furnished: a dresser, nightstand, and the bed were the main furniture. The bed was huge, queen-sized at least. At the base of the bed was a large, ancient looking trunk. A large skylight covered the area over the bed. Over to the side stood a small table with candles, crystals, and other things on it. Bev went to this table immediately and knelt before it, lighting the two large candles and the brazier. She sprinkled something on the coals in the brazier, then the scent of lavender began to fill the room.
"Beverly, your room is beautiful."
"Thank you," Beverly mumbled, rummaging in the trunk, pulling out clothes and setting them aside. "Here, try these on. You can go behind the screen over there, if you'd like." Deanna took the clothes and went to change, grateful for the warmth of the woolen garments. "This was my mother's room before mine. I was born in this room, in this bed, to a great destiny, or so Nana says."
"And what kind of destiny is that?" Deanna asked, coming around the screen, dressed in an outfit similar to Bev's, only the sweater's color was a deep violet.
Before Beverly could answer, they heard Felisa's voice. "Dinner's on. Come now, or don't eat."
"I'll explain later," was all Beverly would say.
After dinner that night, they sat in front of the fire, listening to the ancient tales of Beverly's Celtic heritage. Deanna sat there, completely wrapped up in the tales Felisa wove, falling into a distinct lull. Finally, Felisa looked down at the Betazoid sitting at her knee, and smiled. "Get yourself to bed, child. You are exhausted and not used to the ways of us Scots. We can stay up for days on end, regaling the ancient tales. There will be more tales tomorrow night."
Gratefully, Deanna rose and, before leaving, leaned over to kiss the older woman's cheek. It seemed the natural thing to do. "Goodnight, Mrs. Howard."
"No, no, child. No Mrs. Howard. You call me Nana Felisa, just like my Beverly."
"Alright then, Nana Felisa. I will see you both in the morning," she said and made her way up the stairs.
The two Howard women watched her go, then Beverly turned questioning eyes on her
grandmother. "Why did you do that?"
"Do what?" Felisa asked, bending over to stoke the fire.
"Drug her like that. She can be trusted, Nana. Do you think I would have brought her if she wasn't trustworthy?"
"It was a precautionary method, child, nothing more. She'll sleep deeply through the night and be fine in the morning. Besides, there are things I must discuss with you that no ears but those belonging to one of the blood may hear."
Felisa stood and went to the base of the stairs. Cocking her head sideways, she listened for a moment, smiled, then beckoned her granddaughter to follow her. They went out of the cottage and walked along the moor to the edge of the cliff, overlooking the ocean. Felisa pointed to the moon. "Look, child, She waxes. In only five days She will be full, and your destiny must be fulfilled."
Beverly looked up at the moon briefly, then looked away. "I know," she said softly.
Felisa took the younger woman's chin in her hand, forcing the blue eyes to meet her green eyes. "Why do you fight this, child? You know this is your destiny, your birthright."
Bev broke the contact and walked away. "I know that, Nana, but it doesn't make it any easier. Look at me, Nana, I'm forty-five years old. It's too late for this. This was supposed to have happened nearly twenty years ago," she said, then softly repeated, "It's too late."
"It's not too late, Beverly. Do you question your birthright? Do you question Her ways?"
"No," she replied softly. "I just question Her timing."
"Beverly, child, the Goddess does things according to Her own timetable, not our own. We cannot say what She will do or when She will do it, even if She will do it."
"I know that, Nana," Beverly snapped. "Do you think I've forgotten all you taught me? I may not remember much of my mother, but I know that she was strongly opposed to your ways--"
"Our ways, Cerridwen," the older woman said, using a name that Beverly hadn't heard in many, many years. She noted the shocked recognition on her granddaughter's face. "You remember, child, and you will do what you must do."
"But, Nana, I am afraid. I not a maiden any longer. I am a mother now, and beginning to be a--"
"Do not count yourself a crone before your time, child. You will be a crone soon enough, but you are not yet there," the older woman warned. "And will he be here in time?"
"Nana, you know Jack is dead. This can't work out as it is supposed to when he's dead."
"Have you forgotten what I told you twenty-one years ago? Jack is and was not the one in your destiny. Accept that, Beverly."
"I can't," she whispered, then ran off.
Beverly slipped quietly into the large bed, so as not to awaken Deanna. Then again, with the herbs Felisa had given her, Deanna should sleep like a baby till late morning, if Bev calculated the dosage right. She lay there in the bed, trying to fall asleep, but couldn't. She found herself staring out the skylight, up at the moon, deified Mother Goddess of her ancestors. She sighed heavily, tears welling in her eyes as she remembered what her grandmother had told her all those years ago.
"Nana, why do I have to learn this?"
"Because, child, the Goddess has great things in store for you. The night of your birth, She made it know to me and your mother just how special you would be."
"But, Momma didn't like that. She said she doesn't like your old ways."
"Our old ways, Cerridwen."
"Momma doesn't want you to call me that," the girl pouted, tears forming in her eyes.
Felisa took the child in her arms. "Child of my child, your mother is no longer with us. You know that. She is with the Goddess now, preparing for her next life. And we must prepare you for the life you were born to live."
"And what is it, Nana? I wanna be a doctor like you."
"You will be like me in many ways, child."
Beverly sighed and stared up at the moon. "Why are You doing this to me?" she asked tearfully. "Why couldn't You have picked someone else? He doesn't know what's going on. He doesn't understand what this means...." Then, she could say no more. And, for the first time in years, Beverly Howard Crusher cried herself to sleep, curled up in a fetal ball, bathed in moonlight.
**27 October 2369**
Beverly awoke late the next afternoon, alone in the huge bed. She stretched and went
downstairs after a quick clean up of herself, still in her pajamas. She found Felisa and Deanna pouring over photo albums. Grabbing a cup of coffee from the pot on the fire, she joined them at the table, sliding in on Felisa's other side. Deanna smiled sleepily at her from across the distance. Bev could see the traces of the drug still in her friend's system and wondered how she could run her tricorder over the Betazoid without arousing suspicions. Reaching for the cream, Bev knocked over the salt shaker. A look of fear crossed her features as she scooped up a pinch of the spilt salt in the fingers of her right hand, tossing it over her left shoulder. Deanna giggled then at her antics.
"What was *that* for?" she asked, yawning.
"Old superstition. Spilt salt is thrown over the left shoulder with the right hand."
"I don't know. I never questioned it. It's just something I do, taken on faith that it's the right thing to do, I guess."
"As you should do with other things, Beverly," Felisa said, closing the book with a snap of finality.
"Not now, Nana," Beverly warned, getting up to go sit by the fire.
"Yes, now," Felisa replied, equally determined. "We must discuss this, Cerridwen, and we must discuss it now. There is much to prepare for the ritual before the full moon in four nights, including getting J--"
"There will be no ritual, Nana, so there's nothing to prepare."
"I told you never to call me that again," Bev growled, storming out of the cottage.
"Beverly!" Deanna called after her, then ran after the woman. She tried to keep up with her friend, but couldn't. "Beverly, slow down, please?"
"Deanna, just leave me alone," Bev replied, not slowing at all. "Go back to the cottage and contact the Enterprise. Tell them we wish to be picked up as soon as possible. If I have to pilot a shuttle to get us away from here, I will."
"Why? What's wrong? Talk to me, Beverly," Deanna nearly begged. After a moment's pause, she asked, "Does this have anything to do with the Great Marriage?"
Beverly whirled around to face her friend, shocked anger on her face. "What do you know of the Great Marriage?"
"Your grandmother was explaining it to me this morning," came the reply as the petite woman joined her friend. "It was a very powerful ritual from your ancestors' time, linking the king of the land with the land itself, via a maiden of the Goddess. What I don't understand is what this has to do with you? And who is this man who has to get here before the full moon?"
Bev slowly lowered herself to the ground. Only at this point did she realize she was once again on the edge of the cliff, overlooking the ocean. *Why do You always draw me back here?* she wondered. She noticed Deanna sit next to her, felt the compassion from her friend. She stared out at the ocean for a few more moments before speaking.
"What I have to tell you will probably shock you. But please don't interrupt me till I'm finished. There's a lot you need to know, about the reason you were brought here, about destiny, yours, mine, and...." She trailed off then, unwilling to continue.
Deanna could feel the fear, hesitancy in her friend, but didn't know what to do to ease it. "Take your time, Beverly. I am more than willing to listen, to help you, you know that."
Beverly smiled gratefully, wondering what she'd done to deserve this friend. *The Goddess brought her to you for a reason, Cerridwen,* she thought to herself. Then, realizing she'd begun to use the old name again, she sighed and looked out over the ocean again. When she finally began to speak, her voice was soft, hesitant. "The Howard clan has always been a very superstitious, spiritual people. Very few of my clan were Christian, even through modern times, instead choosing to follow the Old Ways. There have always been High Priests and Priestesses in our clan. Nana is considered a High Priestess in her own right. My mother followed the Old Ways, but very reluctantly. That I was allowed to retain my clan name after my mother married my father was a certainty; that my father took on my clan's name, following the old traditions was a pleasant surprise for my grandmother. They were married with a traditional handfasting, presided over by my grandmother and the High Priest at the time."
"No, my grandfather was long dead by then. Nor had he ever been High Priest. Those titles don't necessarily mean marriage among my clan. Nor was marriage something required. And, since the clans were basically matriarchal in nature, my grandmother rules our clan right now. And one day I will...." Beverly stopped then.
"And that's what this ritual is about? Transferring the ability to rule over to you?"
"In a way."
"How does the Great Marriage come into play then? There is no king or queen involved. Or do you become queen of the Howard clan?"
"Sort of. This is *so* hard to explain."
"Tell me what my involvement is, then go back to the difficult part."
"Your involvement is part of the difficult part."
"I don't understand."
"I don't either, not completely," the redhead admitted softly.
"How did you know I would be needed for this?"
"I didn't, not consciously. I just wanted my best friend to come with me. Then I remembered the prophecy and knew why I'd picked you."
"You are touched by the Goddess. And highly touched at that."
"I don't understand, Beverly."
"You are fey, child." At that voice, both women turned to see Felisa behind them. Bev's face registered immediate recognition. Deanna looked helplessly confused as the old woman came to crouch next to them, staring into Deanna's eyes. "You are of the faerie folk of our people, child."
"I don't understand. I have no Scottish descent in me. How can I be part of your religion? This makes no sense."
"Your soul is one like that of the faerie folk, Deanna."
"Perhaps my empathy...." Deanna stopped at Felisa's head shaking negatively.
"It is the very part of you that is human." When Deanna tried to protest, Felisa stopped her. "No matter that you have no Scots blood in you. You are of the faerie. In some past lifetime, you were united with my ancestors, with Beverly, and you are very instrumental in this ritual."
"What is the ritual? I know you explained the Great Marriage to me, but I don't understand how I fit into this."
"We need someone of the land, the ancient land to tie the two participants together in this ritual. Your soul tells me that you are of the faerie, of the land of Scotland. You are needed by that soul to represent the land we will be tying Beverly to for the transfer of power."
"And who is her husband supposed to be? Jack has been dead for years."
"Jack was not to be her husband in the first place, nor was he to be the father of her child."
"I don't understand. Who was to be?"
"It doesn't matter," Beverly cut in quickly. "This isn't going to work anyway. So why worry about it."
"Why do you call her that, Nana Felisa?" Deanna asked, hoping to diffuse a volatile situation.
"It is her true name, the name chosen for her at birth by divine inspiration from the Goddess. Beverly is the name she was given by her parents, for everyday use."
"Cerridwen became my middle name then," Bev replied sheepishly.
"So that's what the 'C' stands for!" Deanna exclaimed, smiling.
Beverly nodded. Felisa looked at her oddly. "You chose not to reveal your true name to one of the faerie folk, child? Are you crazy?"
"She wouldn't have understood, Nana. Neither will -- he."
"Yes, he will, child. It is in his nature to know."
"Who?" Deanna could contain her curiosity no longer.
Beverly looked up at her finally and whispered, "Jean-Luc."
The shock registered plainly on Deanna's face. "The captain?" Beverly nodded, a small, secretive smile playing on her lips. "And you've *known* about this?"
"For over twenty years, fey-child," Felisa replied. "Cerridwen has fought her destiny, but she can no longer. This ritual should have been completed twenty-one years ago, when it was started."
"What do you mean 'when it was started?'"
"Cerridwen knows, as did Jack.... And I believe even Jean-Luc himself knows."
"No, he doesn't, Nana. If he knew, things would be much different now," she said, pausing, a painful look now crossing her face. "It just would have been different."
"Beverly? Are you--?"
"I'll be fine. I - Just let me deal with this on my own, okay? Both of you? I know what's expected of me, Nana, and what my destiny is. Just let me prepare for it on my own, okay?"
Surprisingly, the older woman didn't argue, simply nodded her head. She stood, motioning for Deanna to join her. "We will be back at the cottage, Cerridwen. Take all the time you need to prepare, but remember we only have four more days, and we must find a way to get Jean-Luc here."
"Don't worry about the captain," Deanna replied mysteriously. "I'll get him here."
As the moon peaked, Beverly finally stumbled through the doorway of the cottage. Without a sideways glance at the occupants of the main room, she made her way upstairs. The other two women heard the bedroom door click shut, then silence. Deanna's eyes never left the ceiling, trying to determine her friend's emotional state.
"She'll be just fine, fey-child," Felisa said, her eyes still trained on the stew bubbling over the fire.
"But she's been gone all afternoon, all night. Are you sure--?"
"She's fine," the older woman said, a snap of authority in her voice. "She's had a lot of
thinking to do, a lot of lost time to make up for. She just needs to remember her heritage, her destiny."
There suddenly was a large crash, followed by Beverly's scream. Deanna bolted up the stairs, Felisa right behind her. Upon opening the door, they found the small altar-table overturned, its contents scattered across the floor. Beverly stood in front of it, naked and crying. Deanna immediately went to her side, grabbing a quilt to cover her with, comforting her friend. Felisa, on the other hand, stood there, her gaze going back and forth between her granddaughter and the mess on the floor. Long moments went by, the silence punctuated by Beverly's sobs, Deanna's softly murmured reassurances.
Finally, the old woman spoke. Her voice took on a low, almost ominous quality that brooked no disobedience. "Cerridwen, I expect an explanation for why you have destroyed your altar. And then I expect you to return it to the state it is supposed to be in."
"No," came Bev's soft reply.
"I am not kidding, Cerridwen."
"Neither am I, Nana," she said, looking at her grandmother. "For my whole life, I have followed what you said I should follow. I married Jack on your recommendation. I bore the son I bore because you said I should. I lost my daughter because you said it wasn't time for her to be born. I did everything as you said I should."
"As was Her will, Cerridwen."
"No! As was *your* will! I believed in you, Nana, I believed in what you taught me. What has it gotten me? What has She done for me? My husband and daughter are dead, my son is no longer a child to be cared for. By the Goddess, Nana, I have no reason to be doing this ritual. There is no girl in our line to continue the tradition after me. Why not end it with you and be done with the whole mess?"
"Do you not think you will have a granddaughter one day? Your Wesley is past the age where he should be running with the stag."
"NO! My son will *not* run with the stag, nor will he be subjected to the Great Marriage. The tradition stops here, Nana, it stops with you. There will be no more Howard High Priests or Priestesses."
"But Wesley shows great potential--"
"He was not trained, Nana, nor will he be. You will not control him as you controlled me."
Felisa stared at her granddaughter for a long minute, gauging Beverly's reactions, choosing her words carefully. "Cerridwen, potential like his need not be trained, as you were trained."
"Are you saying I have no potential? If that's the case, why continue this charade of a ritual? We end this now, Nana," Beverly said, then turned to Deanna. "Pack our bags, hail the Enterprise, and get us the hell out of here."
Deanna was about to speak, but Felisa stopped her, motioning for her to leave. "If you leave now, Cerridwen, you may never get the chance to fulfill your destiny as you are supposed to."
"So be it," came the reply as the redhead began to dress herself, her back to her grandmother.
"Cerridwen, you don't understand."
"What don't I understand, Nana? Have I disappointed you? Then I guess I'm just like my mother, right?"
Felisa's hand struck against Beverly's cheek soundly. Bev's hand went to her stinging face immediately. There was a fire in the older woman's eyes that belied her fragile, old body. "Never dishonor your mother like that. She bore you that you might complete your destiny."
The two Howard women stared at each other for a long moment. Finally, Beverly relented. "But I don't want my destiny, Nana," she replied in a tired, fearful voice. "This is not what I want."
"It is what you want, child, just not the way you wanted to go about it." Felisa walked to Beverly's side, pulled her into a tight embrace. "You have always wanted this, but not the responsibility that goes with it. You must take the responsibility now, child, there is no other way. And you know I will help you as much as She allows it. This was destined for you at your conception, daughter of my daughter, and nothing can change it. You may try to delay it, but eventually, it will happen, and it is best if you have surrounding you those who understand what to do to facilitate its undertaking."
"You and Deanna." It came out flatly, reluctantly. Beverly knew her grandmother was right. "But Deanna knows nothing of our ways, nor does Jean-Luc. You don't understand what you're asking me to do here, Nana. He doesn't, won't, understand why this is happening now, and I have no idea how to explain it to him."
"Let the Goddess guide you, my child. She will not lead you astray of your chosen path. You know that, Cerridwen." Beverly nodded reluctantly. "You won't fight me on this anymore?" She shook her head this time. Smiling, Felisa surveyed the room. "Now that we have that settled, I think it is time we cleaned up this mess you made."
"No, Nana, this is something I have to do. I have to make it up to Her for trying to destroy Her altar, for trying to deny the path She's chosen for me."
"As you wish, child," Felisa said, smiling, and kissed her still-red cheek. "When you are finished, come join Deanna and me for some stew. I made your favorite, and it should be finished by the time you finish here."
"I will, Nana," Bev said, kneeling to start picking up her mess, as Felisa began to leave. "Nana?"
"Thank you, and.... I'm sorry."
"All is forgiven, child, all is forgiven."
**28 October 2369**
"Beverly! Slow down!"
Laughter, fading away, was the only reply.
"You'd better hurry, fey-child, or you'll never catch up to her," Felisa said, a playful smile on her lips. Suddenly, she took off after her granddaughter, graceful and swift as a fawn.
Deanna sighed, thoroughly exhausted. *How am I supposed to keep up with you two?* she thought, starting out after them. She followed the sound of their laughter, her only guide through the trees. Without warning, the trees ended on a small clearing. There, Deanna found the two Howard women frolicking naked in a sunlit pool. *Who's supposed to be fey?* she asked herself, smiling in spite of herself.
Bev ran up to her, tugging on her arm. "Come on, Deanna. The water's perfect." Her eyes sparkled in the sunlight like Deanna's never seen before, and she exuded such total happiness that Deanna couldn't resist. "Last one in...."
She didn't even give Bev the chance to finish the sentence, taking off, planning to win the race this time. She turned back to stick her tongue out at her friend...and tripped over an exposed root. Down she went, shocked into silence until she landed and felt the pain. Then she began to swear in every language she knew.
Bev was instantly on her knees at Deanna's side, reaching for the tricorder that wasn't there. For a moment, she panicked, staring down at her own nude body and her lack of the tools needed to help her best friend.
"You know what to do, Cerridwen. Trust yourself."
Beverly looked up at her grandmother. "But, Nana, I haven't done this in so long."
"All the more reason, child," came the reply, then she repeated, "Trust yourself."
Beverly looked at her for a long moment, then looked down at Deanna's ankle. Just looking at it, she could tell it was broken. She ran her nimble fingers over the darkening flesh. The Betazoid sucked in her breath and tried to pull away, but was stopped by Felisa's strong hands on her shoulders. Bev glanced at the elder Howard briefly, then turned her gaze to Deanna, tried to smile reassuringly.
"Just relax, Deanna," she said softly. "Close your eyes and employ whatever relaxation techniques you know to block the pain. Your ankle's broken--"
"You're not going to set it now, are you? Here?"
Bev nodded. "Just relax and do as I ask, Deanna. Everything will be fine, trust me."
Deanna nodded and closed her eyes, breathing deeply, finding that centering calm of hers. At the edge of her conscience, she heard Felisa murmuring low chants in a combination of English and Scots Gaelic. As much as she tried to follow it, she just couldn't. Her mind wandered, unwilling to stay focussed, images and memories of safety and calm popping in and out.
"Great Goddess above, Cerridwen, maiden of spring, mother of summer, crone of fall, death hag of winter, all four in one, protectress, moon incarnate, great mother of all, watch over us, Your followers, as we enter this endeavor. Send Your light and love to guide us, that we don't stray from Your path. Guide Your daughter and namesake as she undertakes this task she hasn't done in many years."
Beverly listened to her grandmother's invocation, remembering countless other invocations like it from the past. It put her at ease like she hadn't been in a long time. Her eyes fluttered shut and she took a few slow, deep breaths. Her hands traveled by instinct along Deanna's ankle. She felt the swollen flesh, could picture the broken pieces of bone. As her mind's eye concentrated on how to reset the pieces, her grandmother's voice slowly faded to a distant buzz in the back of her head. And then she felt it....
It felt as if a great swarm of bees filled her, more than should fill her body. And a warmth accompanied that swarm-feeling. Her chest grew tight, ready to burst, to allow this feeling to explode out. It had been so long since she'd last felt this feeling, Beverly nearly lost her train of thought. Thoroughly elated, she fought to continue thinking of Deanna's broken bones, a smile of tearful recognition on her face. It hurt to breathe even, but she forced herself to bring air into her lungs, to keep going.
Finally, she opened her eyes, blinking back tears of joy. She looked down, saw Deanna's restored ankle, then smiled at her grandmother. And then, exhausted by her exertion, she slumped over next to Deanna.
Felisa smiled at the two sleeping women, a hand on each head. "Goddess protect you, my children."
Finally, Beverly awoke to a soft breeze stirring her hair. She looked around, noted it was early evening, and saw the moon rising. Deanna slept peacefully next to her, but Felisa was nowhere to be seen. Near them was a small basket; Bev knew it contained food and blankets, just as she knew she would be staying the night here, communing with the Goddess again, reestablishing their long-dormant relationship. She then realized that Felisa had dressed her while she'd slept. Beverly slowly stood and made her way to the basket and pulled out a thin thermal blanket, placed it over Deanna's slight form. She wrapped the other blanket about herself and walked to the water's edge. She knelt, watching the reflection of the moon on the mirrored surface of the pool. Sighing softly, she felt herself drawn to that image on the water.
"Go to Her, Cerridwen, go to Her as you are meant to."
Beverly looked up to see Deanna standing next to her... but it wasn't Deanna. The Betazoid fairly glowed, hair framing her elfin face in a flurry of shiny black curls, her naked body swathed in the silvery blanket. Such a smile of compassion and benevolence played about her face, it made Beverly feel immediately better, safe.
She stood, let the blanket fall to reveal her own naked body, lightly mirroring that luminous quality of Deanna's. She stepped into the water, suddenly very warm and comforting, going waist- and even shoulder-deep within a few feet, but never any deeper than that. She continued toward that lunar reflection, slowly, deliberately, inexorably drawn forward, pulled on by invisible strings. And still she continued. She reached the middle of the lake, only a few meters from that reflection still, suddenly was submerged. Feeling a slight fear, but knowing her Goddess would not lead her purposely to harm, she continued on. The warm liquid surrounded her, caressed her body, soothed her mind, called to her soul. She stopped her journey for a bit, just reveling in the sensations of the warm, silky water around her. And then, the urge to continue on returned, and she set out again.
As her head broke the surface, her eyes lighted on a small island, shrouded in a thin veil of mist. She continued forward through the water and onto the shore of the island. A soft breeze played about her, but the water dripping and running down her body kept her warm.
"Cerridwen." The voice was soft, but insistent.
"I hear you, Great Mother!" she cried, running forward, toward that voice. Through a grove of scented, blossoming apple trees she ran. Reaching the clearing, she stopped and dropped to her knees in awe. Before her stood a circle of stones surrounding a moonlit stone altar. Beverly felt an even stronger urge within her to enter that sacred circle.
Slowly, reverently, but with a great thrill in her heart, she entered the stone circle. Crossing the outer boundary, she felt the hairs on her neck raise at the great power contained within. With an awe few saw in her, Beverly crossed to the center of the circle, knelt before the moonlit altar, head bowed, eyes closed, basking in the power pulsing around her. She sat there for a long minute, reveling in this feeling long-forgotten and, she had to admit, often missed.
"I have ever been here for you, my daughter."
Beverly looked up to see the moonlight had coalesced into her beloved deity, taking on the form she'd always shown to Beverly, that of the Great Mother. Her long auburn hair flowed free, framed pale skin and eyes as blue as the sky. About her slim body was a long, creme-colored tunic, cinched by an intricately designed copper belt, revealing a dancer's figure so like Beverly's. On her arms were copper knotwork bracelets, and about her slim neck rested a plain silver torc adorned only with a large perfect amethyst.
Beverly looked up into those eyes, saw her reflection there as the Goddess saw her, and began to cry at the beauty she witnessed. She turned her head in shame, the realization of her cavalier attitude in recent years toward this deity embarrassing her. Why had she abandoned what was so integral a part of her life?
"Do not regret your choices, my daughter. Everything happens for a reason, to continue you on your journey through your lives and lessons."
"But, Great Mother, I've strayed from my path, Your path. Am I not to feel shamed for that?"
The Goddess regarded her for a long moment. Beverly held her ground against that scrutiny, a bit fearful of the outcome. Then, the Goddess stood and began to walk to the edge of the circle. "Come with me, my daughter."
Without hesitation, Beverly followed Her in silence. At the edge of the circle, she was motioned to cross through first. She felt that thrill of power again, but when she stepped out to the other side, the Goddess was already there. They walked silently for a bit, then the Goddess stopped. Bev turned to see where they were and sighed heavily...they were on the cliff.
"Why am I always drawn to this place, Mother?" Beverly asked wearily, eyes looking out over the turbulent waters.
"This is the place of your birth."
"No, I was born back in the cottage. That's the place of my birth."
"No, my child, you were conceived on this cliff. It is the very power of this place that calls to you, Cerridwen. It is the power within you, calling to you, like to like."
Beverly thought about that for a long moment, sighed again. "Why must I follow this destiny? Jean-Luc knows nothing of Your ways--"
"Your ways, too, Cerridwen."
Bev nodded, acquiescence. "But still, he doesn't understand my beliefs. How is he to fulfill my destiny if he doesn't even know what he's doing?"
The Goddess moved to sit on a large boulder, Bev at Her knee, awaiting Her word. "Look out to the sea, my daughter. See the turmoil there at the base of the cliff? That is your inner turmoil. See how the water is calmer farther out? That is your acceptance of your destiny. And the clouds above you? That is his destiny, his fears and hopes. There, on the horizon, where the two meet, all is calm and peaceful. Your destiny and his are inextricably bound. He will know enough to do as he must. The rest you will teach him."
"Cerridwen, you have been chosen for this destiny, and no amount of hoping or denying will change that. Look to your son. Would you deny him his existence?"
"No! I love Wesley."
"Would you deny him the destiny set for him?" The words were gently spoken, not accusatory. Bev shook her head. "Then why deny what has been set for you? Or for--?"
"This is *his* destiny, too?" Beverly blurted, sudden recognition dawning on her. The Goddess nodded, smiling. "So, he can no more deny this, or any part of it, than I can?"
"Nor can your son."
"Wesley...." And her thoughts wandered to the young man for a moment, then to his father. She turned troubled eyes to the water again. "What of Jack?"
"He was not to be a part of your destiny as you'd hoped," She said softly, a hand caressing Beverly's cheek. "I know he meant a great deal to you, as does the man destined to be with you for all lives. Both men have been bound to you for many lives now, because you continue to choose incorrectly between them. This is the ultimate choice, my daughter. Did not the man you chose make you deny your heritage?"
"No, it wasn't Jack, Mother, it was me. *I* made the choice to deny You and Your ways."
"But it was because of your love for him. Correct?" Bev nodded guiltily, looking down. "And this is why all of you are to continue this until you make the right choice and truly bind yourself to the man destined to be with you through all your lives. Fulfilling your destiny will bind your two souls together for all eternity, through all your mortal lives and through the rest of time when you both join me. You cannot escape him or your destiny, my daughter, but the struggle will cease to exist when your choice is correctly made. And he is finally learning, in his own way, that his destiny will be fulfilled only with you."
Beverly's eyes lit up at that. "It is so? And it is right?"
"Yes, my daughter," the Goddess replied, smiling warmly. "Believe in yourself and your abilities. You cannot be led astray."
Beverly's eyes closed briefly, letting this happiness and calm fill her. She realized how foolish she'd been. "I understand and I accept," she said softly.
Opening her eyes, she found herself once again alone by the lake, wrapped in the blanket, as if she'd never left. Slowly she became aware of her surroundings. Looking up, she noticed the moon had set, the sky lightening in the east. Gingerly she stood up, stretching stiff muscles, and made her way to Deanna. As she knelt next to the Betazoid, she met the open black eyes, but couldn't speak, too overcome with emotion. Deanna smiled broadly. "I'll contact the captain," was all she said.
**29 October 2369**
The scent of gingerbread awoke Beverly from her long nap. She bounded down the steps, a joy in her heart that she hadn't felt in ages. Deanna and Felisa looked up at her, smiling.
"Hello, Beverly. Did you sleep well?"
"Yes, very," she replied, went over to Felisa. "Nana, I want to apologize for--"
"No need, child," came the reply as brilliant jade caught and held palest sapphire. "Your acceptance of your destiny is apology enough." There was a moment of silence as the two Howard women just held each other. Then Felisa pulled back. "My gingerbread is burning."
As the elder Howard returned to her baking, Deanna touched Bev's arm. "Can I talk to you?"
"Of course," she replied. "Nana, we'll be out on the moor, most likely on the cliff. We'll be back for lunch." With this, Beverly led her friend out of the cottage. As they walked to the cliff, Bev linked arms with her best friend, happier than she'd been in years. When they reached the cliff, she sat on the very boulder the Goddess had claimed in her vision. Deanna sat at her knees, echoing her own actions of the night before.
"I feel odd about this -- role reversal," Deanna said slowly. "But I need to know. What happened to my ankle?"
"What do you remember?"
"I remember falling, and the pain, oh gods, it hurt. You said you were going to set it," she said, pausing, deep in thought, trying to remember. "Nana Felisa began chanting something, but I couldn't follow it, my mind wouldn't focus. And then, when I woke up, my ankle was healed, and you were sleeping next to me. I was still tired, so I went back to sleep. When did you use a tricorder on it? And how long was I asleep?"
Bev smiled. "So many questions, my friend. I'm not sure how long you slept, as I'm not sure how long I slept. I didn't use a tricorder on your ankle."
"Then Nana Felisa must have while we both slept."
Bev shook her head. "No, Nana wouldn't have allowed it anyway."
"Then how did my ankle get fixed?"
"I Healed you." Simple. Succinct. Without regret or hesitation.
"Healed you. It's a trait in my clan. Some of us have it, some don't. I happen to have it. It's part of the reason I became a doctor in the first place, though I haven't used it much in my professional career."
"I don't know, exactly. All I know is that the Goddess finds Her way into me as I picture the injuries healed, and when I open my eyes again, they're healed."
**30 October 2369**
Jean-Luc Picard stared out the viewport down at the planet below. Caldos IV. Beverly's homeworld. Thoughts of the bewitching redhead had filled his head the past few days, more so than normally: visions of a future with her, the rest of their lives together. And, even more disturbing, a sense of potential danger for the woman. He knew how he felt for Beverly, but did she feel the same way for him after all these years? He doubted it, or things would have been different. But, he wasn't going to wait to find out anymore. He'd been planning on having that talk with her when she returned. And then, curiously, he got the call from Deanna. Sighing, he remembered that conversation of only two days earlier.
A loud chirping awoke Jean-Luc from a deeply disturbing dream. It took him a few seconds to realize that the chirping was the computer signaling he had a live transmission coming in. *Perhaps it's Beverly,* he thought to himself, then stared, surprised as the smiling face of Deanna Troi looked up at him. "Deanna? Is everything alright?"
"Yes, sir," she replied, hesitation in her voice.
"What's wrong? Is Beverly alright?" he asked quickly, then turned a fierce shade of red, regretting that he let one of his crew see his true feelings for the CMO.
"She's fine, sir," Deanna replied. "She wanted me to ask you to come to Caldos. She needs your help with something."
"What sort of help? Are you sure she's alright, Deanna?"
"She's fine, sir. It would be best if Beverly explained this to you herself. But, she asked me to remind you of the full moon's beauty as seen from the cliff near her grandmother's house." And with that, Deanna's face was replaced with the Starfleet logo on his monitor.
Jean-Luc sat back, running a hand across his face. He stood and quickly ordered a cup of Earl Grey, then returned to the couch, deep in thought. And the images of his dream came back to him in vivid detail. Beverly out on the moor, on that very cliff Deanna had just spoken of, the light of the full moon shining down on her; he and Jack kneeling before her in deference to her power; the white stag suddenly appearing before them; running after that stag; battling that stag; battling Jack....
And, once again, as he stared down at the planet, Jean-Luc Picard remembered that night referred to, had thought was all a dream all these years, his thoughts turned back to his relationship with the comely CMO over the years. Suddenly, he remembered the date, the phase of the moon, and a strong, primal urge overcame him. He needed to get down to the surface as soon as possible, needed to see Beverly.
Deanna watched as the swirling patterns of light coalesced into the familiar form of Jean-Luc Picard. She smiled warmly at her captain, sending waves of comfort and calm toward the confused, apprehensive man. "Welcome to Caldos IV, Captain," she said gaily. "Beverly and Nana Felisa would have come with me to meet you, but they are busy preparing for the festival."
"Festival?" he asked. "Of course, the festival. I'd nearly forgotten that tomorrow is Samhain."
Deanna sensed the bald lie, but said nothing. *Better to let him have his apprehensions now,* she thought to herself. *There is much riding on the precision of his actions tomorrow night.* She motioned for him to join her as she began to walk out of the transporter room. "I thought you might like a walk through town, rather than taking a hovercraft back to the cottage."
"Yes, thank you, Deanna. It has been quite a few years since I last was here. And I miss the quaintness of this town."
They made their way through the village slowly, enjoying the crisp October weather, discussing the latest mission of the Enterprise and anything else that would distract Jean-Luc's thoughts from his next mission. As they rounded the bend, the cottage came into view. And in front of it stood Beverly. Upon recognizing her, Jean-Luc stopped in his tracks and openly stared, forgetting his now-smirking counselor was at his side. Beverly was hanging up clothes on the line. Her hair was up in the ponytail it was almost always in lately, making her look as young as she had twenty-one years earlier. She was wearing a blue short-sleeved shirt that complimented her eyes as well as the blue in the clan tartan on her kilt. For a long moment, he watched as she continued her work, unaware of her audience, then went back into the cottage. And only when she was out of sight did her silent observer let out the pent-up air in his lungs.
"*Merde,*" he muttered. "She looks as she did back then. Can I do this?"
He began to turn away, as if to flee in terror, but the petite Betazoid stopped him. Wordlessly, she dragged him up to the front door of the cottage, then inside.
"Beverly? Nana Felisa? We're here."
The older woman walked in from the kitchen, smiling, then stopped, squinting hard at Jean-Luc. "That can't be Jean-Luc Picard? Captain of the famous *Enterprise*? Why, he hasn't been here in nearly a quarter century."
A broad smile broke out across the man's face. "Hello, Felisa," he replied, embracing her warmly. "I do apologize for the delay in a return visit."
"Apologize, my eye, Jean-Luc," she said chuckling. "Come, sit by the fire and tell me how you've been. Deanna, dear, would you mind checking on the bread for me? I'd rather not take burnt bread to tomorrow's festival."
"Of course, Nana Felisa." She made her way into the warm kitchen, where she found her best friend nervously pacing. "Coward," she said, bending to remove the bread from the oven.
That stopped Bev in her tracks. "I am not."
"Why didn't you acknowledge our presence out there?"
"I can't believe he's here." She sank wearily into a chair. "Did he say anything, Deanna?"
Deanna fixed herself a cup of the strong herbal tea Felisa always had, then sat at the table next to Beverly. She studied her friend for a moment, noted the fear in the blue eyes. "He's just as anxious as you are, Beverly, though I really shouldn't tell you that. You should go talk to him yourself."
"No!" Bev replied quickly, then sighed. "Not yet. I'm not ready to face him yet. You don't know what this means to me, Deanna."
Deanna placed a comforting hand on the shaking one before her. "Yes, I do. And so does he." Sapphire eyes snapped up to gaze deeply into the onyx ones. "Go to him, Beverly. Talk to him, tell him what you feel. He won't shun you."
"He loves you, my friend, that should be obvious. The look on his face when he saw you outside said it so plainly, so perfectly."
Suddenly, Bev looked up at the door. Deanna already knew who was standing there. She placed her cup in the sink, then, squeezing Bev's hand, she quietly left the room.
Bev put on her bravest face. "Hello, Jean-Luc. How was your trip?" Before he could reply, she turned to busy herself with cleaning up the flour on the counter top. She needed to do something, hide the trembling in her hands. And then, her hands were trapped in his, her body wrapped in his arms.
"Please don't," he murmured softly, the sound of his voice sending shivers along her spine.
"Don't what?" She finally managed to ask.
"Hide like that." And he turned her to face him. "Is there somewhere we can talk?"
Beverly nodded mutely, led him out the back door and onto the moor. They made their way to the cliff. Needing reassurance, Bev perched herself on the boulder that felt like a part of herself. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jean-Luc staring, looking at anything but her. She sighed heavily, knowing it was up to her to start this, no matter how much it terrified her. She felt the power of the Goddess around her and embraced it, boosting her self-confidence.
They stopped then, smiling at each other self-consciously. Finally, Jean-Luc came to sit next to her, motioning for her to continue. Red hair cascaded down to cover her face for a moment, then sparkling sapphire met warmest hazel.
"I'm glad you're here, Jean-Luc. I was afraid you wouldn't come."
"I had no choice. I accepted your invitation to see the full moon from this cliff again. And I needed to know you were alright." At her quizzical look, he stood and began pacing. "I've been having some rather disturbing dreams lately, dreams that involve you...and this place." He paused a moment, hoping she would interrupt, question him. Her very silence goaded him on. "Strange dreams of this place...and power, tremendous power...you, a goddess incarnate...chasing and fighting a white stag, but the stag became Jack...such a terrible struggle...."
When he didn't continue, staring out at the sea, she stood and went to his side. A delicate, calming hand rested on his shoulder, but desperation was in her voice. "Who won?"
A harsh sound, almost a sob, came from him. "He wanted me dead," he rasped. "I had to do it, I had no choice."
"Had to do what?"
"He wanted me dead...and I killed him. Slew him like an animal."
Bev's eyes fluttered shut briefly, a slight shudder passing through her. "Then what?" she finally asked.
"I don't know. I always wake up at that point. What does it mean, Beverly? Why have I been unable to get you out of my mind these past few days?"
And she took him in her arms, comforting him, as a tear slipped down her cheek. The Goddess' prophecy was coming true.
"Nana? Nana, are you up yet?"
"I'm here, child. What troubles you so?"
Beverly knelt at her grandmother's feet, resting her cheek on the woman's knee, and stared into the glowing embers. Felisa's hand caressed the red tresses gently, waiting for the inevitable tumble of words. And tumble out they did, amid a flurry of tears.
"I don't think I can do this, Nana. He's so willing now. After all these years, my wish is finally coming true. I'll have the power, the title, the responsibility. I'll have Jean-Luc. My destiny will be fulfilled. My choice will be correct finally.... But is it right? Is it worth it? Am I doing the right thing? Will I regret this? What am I going to do? I'm scared, Nana."
"Look at me, child." Bev looked up into the brilliant jade of her grandmother's eyes. "Have I ever told you the story of how I came to inherit this title? This power?"
"You mean when Granny Glendarra died and passed it on to you?"
Felisa shook her head. "No, when I was told I would be inheriting the role of High Priestess."
"No, Nana, I don't think so."
"When I was a girl, the Goddess came to me in a dream-vision. She told me many things, including what I am about to tell you. From that day on, I was a loyal believer in Her ways, Her Power, and devoted my life to doing everything I could to be closer to Her again." Felisa paused for a bit, then reached down to pull on the thin leather thong around Bev's neck. She held the small pouch at its end in her hand. "What do you wear this for, child? What purpose does it serve?"
"It holds things precious to me, sacred things, things I use to cement my link with Her."
"What sort of things?"
"Crystals, trinkets, mementos." She fingered the pouch fondly, memories bringing a smile to her lips. "Wesley's first lost tooth, Jack's wedding band...."
"The pebble that dug into my shoulder, drawing blood, the night Wes was conceived." She bit her lip, longing filling her eyes. "It was, and still is, the most precious thing I own."
"As it should be, child," Felisa said, pulling something from her own pouch. She placed it in Bev's hand, closed her fingers around it. "It is time to add this to your pouch."
Beverly opened her hand to see a small, well-worn nugget of silver. She studied it intently, then closed her eyes, felt the tremendous surge of Goddess-energy within. And her hand grew warm, her skin throbbing from the contact, as she turned it over in her palm, committing to memory its size and shape.
"What do you feel from it, Cerridwen?"
"It's very old, and very powerful. I can feel the Goddess so strongly in it. What is it for, Nana?"
"This nugget has been passed down to each successive Howard High Priestess for nearly ten centuries, at the time of the power transference. Each of us has augmented its original power, creating a most puissant familial link to each successive High Priestess, an incredibly strong auric shield, so to speak."
"But the transfer hasn't taken place yet, Nana. How am I to take it if it hasn't occurred?"
"In my childhood vision, the Goddess prophesied that I would be High Priestess far longer than normal, that at the time of the transference, my successor, the daughter of my daughter, would need its protection just prior to the ritual. So I am fulfilling what was told, and giving it to you."
Beverly stared at her grandmother, fear in her wide blue eyes. "What's going to happen, Nana? You know, don't you? She told you."
"All I know is what I've told you, Cerridwen, nothing more. The rest is left to Fate and your destiny. You must choose how to proceed now, you and Jean-Luc."
Despite the late hour, Jean-Luc found himself wearily traversing the moor. Exhausted, but unable to sleep, he thought to seek the comforts of the natural beauty of this place. He took his time, hoping the leisurely stroll would ease his mind. Slow, deep breaths brought the heady scent of heather, as well as a feeling of deep calm and serenity.
Suddenly, his head snapped up. Something caught his eye. Scanning the moor, he noted something white off near the cliff. His curiosity piqued, Jean-Luc took off after it. The apparition led him on a wild chase until he came to a site that reminded him of the Ancient Earth wonder known as Stonehenge. Slowly, with anticipated trepidation, he entered the stone circle. Once inside, he saw Beverly before the altar. Closer inspection showed him she was naked, chanting in a low voice, her light contralto vibrating and humming in his brain.
"Come, Jean-Luc," came her voice in his head. "It is time." He felt himself moving forward to kneel at Bev's feet. *My dreams...* he thought, looking up at her. Her hair glowed like living flames, surrounding perfect porcelain and brightest sapphire. She looked down at him, touched his brow lightly, her touch like a soft spring breeze. "Greetings, brave hunter," she said softly. "The time to hunt the stag is here." And then he noticed the white beast standing docile next to him. And she laid her hands on their heads, benediction and blessing. "May you both run swift and strike true. Let him who remains in the end return to me, and we shall celebrate the feast of victory."
With a flick of her hand, the stag took off running, Jean-Luc close behind. Out across the moor they ran; through a grove of sweetly scented apple trees they dodged and leapt; over a river they flew. Finally, in the middle of a clearing below the stone circle, the stag stopped and turned to face Jean-Luc. Its pale blue eyes met his with a sort of recognition. For a long moment they stood there, staring at each other, sizing one another up, searching for a sign of weakness. The two stood so still, only the blinking of their eyes proved they lived.
And then the stag lunged forward, his great antlers slashing at the man. Jean-Luc, sensing this assault, jumped backwards, barely sidestepping the attack. He needed a weapon, needed something to hold off those antlers. From the corner of his eye, he spotted a heavy branch and picked it up, swinging it toward the stag.
And so the battle began. Advance and retreat. Thrust and parry. Attack and defend. Advantage and disadvantage. The combatants tired quickly, but each stood his ground, unwilling to admit fatigue or defeat. Each sweat-stained body was covered with bruises and dirty cuts that oozed blood. Both wore their injuries proudly, badges of honor.
And both knew there could be only one winner in this battle, only one of them could claim Beverly in the rites of victory. Jean-Luc was damned if he'd let this seemingly perfect beast steal from him the woman he loved. He would not be beaten out again like he had been with Jack. And he began to fight with renewed vigor, his eyes glowing with vengeance. With each attack, he remembered a time Jack had bested him...and every one of them concerned Beverly. Jack was younger. More handsome. More outgoing. Met Beverly first. Dated her first. Kissed her first. Slept with her first. Won her heart. Married her. Fathered her a son. As he pushed forward, the retreating beast's features became more and more like those of his deceased friend. *Friend?* after what he'd done? Taken away the woman he loved? The woman standing up on the hillside watching them fight? The woman he'd die for?
And his eyes flickered up to that very vision of loveliness. She stood there, like a goddess on Olympus itself. Suddenly her beautiful features were marred by terror and a scream issued from her lips.
Then he noted the stag/Jack advancing. He began to retreat, regroup and renew his attack, tripped over his weapon, landing on his back. And in that instant, as he looked up into the pained eyes of the woman he loved, he knew he'd lost. Turning his gaze to his assailant, he watched the stag transform completely into Jack, sharp, jagged knife in hand, a look of leering triumph in his pale blue eyes. And as Jack thrust the knife home into his chest, Jean-Luc knew that his last memory would be of his own anguished voice screaming out Beverly's name in vain.
That voice. That heavenly voice. He'd always dreamt of spending eternity in her arms. Was it happening now? He needed to know. And then he felt trembling hands traveling his body. Deep down, he knew they were hers, searching with practiced ease for injuries. Slowly, almost reluctantly, he opened his eyes to find himself lying on the ground, still on the cliff. He looked up to see Beverly above him, the almost full moon a nimbus about her head. Such concern and compassion in those eyes staring down at him. Eyes he'd gladly, willingly drown in. And then tears of relief filled those eyes, tumbled down onto his own face. And before he could speak she was holding him close, great sobs wracking her body.
"Beverly?" he rasped.
"Oh, thank the Goddess, you're alright," she cried, holding him closer.
And he pulled her into his arms, pulling her down next to him, unable to sit up enough to hold her. She snuggled next to him, burying her face in the crook of his neck. And it was then that he realized she still wore only her t-shirt and kilt, that she was freezing. "Beverly," he murmured. "Beverly, we need to get you home, you're freezing."
Breaking her close contact with him, she sat up long enough to reach behind her and grab a thermal blanket from the pack near them. She covered their bodies, then snuggled back down next to him, her face returning to the crook of his neck. And had this been any other woman, he'd have sworn he felt her lips fondly brush against his skin. He started to speak again, but she stopped him. "Shhh. Don't speak, Jean-Luc. Just lie, back, save your strength. The thermal blanket will keep us warm enough tonight."
"But, Beverly," he asked, but stopped at the pleading look in her eyes. "Communing with the Goddess tonight?"
She nodded slowly, her gaze turning pensive as she sat up, facing the moon. When she spoke, her voice was soft, fearful. "Jean-Luc, do you know why I asked you to come here?"
He sat up next to her, wrapped the blanket, as well as his arms, around her. His voice was just as soft and fearful as hers. "Yes, I do. But why now? Why after all this time?"
"It needs to be done, needs to be finished. It should have been finished when it was started, but I was too damned scared to do anything about it. I mean, how was I to tell my husband that I loved another man? That I'd married the wrong man? That by following my destiny, I'd been unfaithful to him?"
"Then Jack never knew?"
She shook her head. "Not as far as I knew. Nana says he did. All I remember him saying about that night was that the two of you had a disagreement over my decision to hold the sabbat ritual, that he'd gone up to bed and you'd gone off to sulk."
"He was right. I *had* gone off to sulk, but I'd also gone off to find you, make sure you were alright. I was worried about you. Even though I didn't understand your Old Ways, as you called them, I understood your need to perform your rituals, unlike Jack who thought they were superstitious nonsense. I'd known of your fight with Jack earlier that day, and your grandmother seemed worried about you. And then, when I found you...."
She turned to look at him then, saw the faraway look in his eye as he recalled that night. "And what do you remember about that night, Jean-Luc? That night you've thought was a dream all these years?"
"Honestly?" She nodded her head, shifting to watch him more comfortably. "I remember searching for you all over. Finally found you here, looking so lost, so forlorn, but there was an air of anxiety, anticipation in your eyes. When you turned to look at me, I nearly died at the sight of you, your naked body covered in ancient symbols painted blue. An overwhelming urge came over me, I needed to have you, needed to be with you, and to hell with Jack. And the next thing I remembered, you were lying beneath me, your body wrapped about me, crying with your release...." And his voice trailed off then. There was an almost troubled look on his face.
"What next, Jean-Luc?"
"Nothing. That's all I remember."
"Don't lie to me, Jean-Luc, I know you remember more than that. Please tell me the rest of it."
He looked at her sharply. "You know the rest of it. Why make me repeat it?"
"I need to hear you say it, need to know that *I* didn't dream it all these years."
"You called me your love, said you'd loved me for all eternity, that you'd love me till the end of time." It came out softly, filled with emotion. "And the next day, you ran away, wouldn't come anywhere near me, stayed out here on the cliff, even when Jack came to get you to say goodbye to me before we shipped out." Beverly bent her head, tears silently flowing down her cheeks. "What was I to think? I put the whole night out of my head, treated it as if had never happened. But my heart never forgot, not in all these years since. That night has come to me in my dreams, more prevalently lately, along with dreams of a future with you. Dreams that could never come true." And the silence hung about them like a thick blanket. Finally, he shattered it. "Say something, damn it! Don't just sit there, silently crying."
"What do you want me to say, Jean-Luc? That I didn't mean for it to happen? That I didn't mean to fall in love with you? We were fated to be together. If I'd had my way that night, and Nana had hers, you and I would be married now, as our destinies had been set out for us," she said, then continued in a whisper, "If I'd only had more courage back then, I'd have chosen correctly in the first place."
Jean-Luc looked at her then, not sure if he'd heard her right. "What do you mean, Beverly? More courage? For what?"
"Nana didn't know about you at first, didn't know about my feelings for you. She thought it a good idea I marry Jack, thought he was the one from the prophecy, so I did. I never told her about you." Jean-Luc was still confused, and her glance at his troubled face told her so. "You don't remember, do you? The night we first met? It was the night Walker Keel introduced me to Jack. You were there, I saw you. You were watching me so intently, and I was immediately drawn to you, but Walker introduced me to Jack, and then you disappeared for a while. When you finally showed up again to meet me, I'd already agreed to a date with Jack. I would have canceled if you'd said but one word. You never did, so I dated him, married him, but wished it had been you. I just thought you weren't interested. And then, when you were both here for the ritual, Nana realized the error she'd made about Jack, about our marriage. And then you were the one who came at the crucial point in the ritual, like it was supposed to have been. I couldn't have been happier. But how could I tell Jack I'd been wrong? How could I tell him I was in love with his best friend, his commanding officer? And the next day, I couldn't bear to see you leave, knowing we'd probably never be together again. And how could I see you off, knowing...."
"Knowing what?" She didn't answer him. "Knowing what, Beverly?"
"Haven't you figured it out yet, Jean-Luc?" was all she could whisper, getting up, away from him.
At first, he was confused, unsure of what she meant. Then it hit him...like a lead weight in his gut. He refigured the math over and over again, but the answer came up the same every time. And some of the guilt he'd carried around all those years faded away. But it was replaced with new guilt, new regrets. He quickly went to her side, turned her to face him, took her in his arms, holding her close. He searched her blue eyes for confirmation of what he'd just realized, received it in her tears. "He's...? After all these years?" She nodded slowly, unsure of his reaction. "I never knew. I never guessed. Never would have even *thought* to guess it. Are you sure?" Beverly looked at him, exasperated, which made him chuckle self-consciously. "Of course, you're sure, you're a doctor. Oh, Beverly, had I known, I would have--"
She shushed him with a delicate finger pressed against his lips. "You would have caused such problems between you and your best friend. I couldn't allow that. I couldn't let this come between you and the one person you trusted and loved most in this universe. Nor could I do it to him. So I kept it to myself all these years. Only Nana knew what really happened. Deanna doesn't even know. Nor, I think, does Wes."
"Perhaps he does. He's a smart boy -- young man, and...." He hesitated, almost afraid to say it. Bev sensed this and smiled encouragingly.
"Say it, Jean-Luc, it's alright now. Jack can't do anything to you, to *us* anymore."
He looked up at the stars, toward the direction Earth would be in, then returned his gaze to Beverly, a few tears welling in his eyes, and smiled. "He's my son. I have a son. And a wonderful young man he's become. I have to thank you for that...and Jack, too."
"Jack was only there for the first five years of his life, and hardly so at that," she said, delicately tracing the curve of his jaw. "You were there for his formative years, so paternal in your own way. He looked up to you so much, regarded your opinion of him so highly."
"As a son would of his father," he finished for her. And then Jean-Luc Picard did what he'd waited twenty-one years to do. He took her face in his hands and kissed her. That first kiss was gentle, a sweet reminder of the love they'd both hidden for nearly a quarter of a century. Pulling back, he gazed deeply into her eyes, hypnotized by her very nearness. And then, to her extreme delight and relief, he said the words she'd longed to hear for just as long. "I love you, Beverly, and I never want to lose you again."
"Oh, Jean-Luc," she cried, the tears tumbling down her cheeks. "I love you, too." And she kissed him again. This time all their pent-up emotions for each other came out into the kiss. Jean-Luc quickly lowered her to the ground, his body covering hers as the blanket protected her from the cold ground. It took no time for them to get worked up to a feverish pitch, hands and mouths hurriedly opening and removing clothing, seeking to touch, taste, satisfy each other's body.
But then, Jean-Luc pulled back to looked down at Beverly. Her hair was tossed akimbo about her head, her skin flushed a sweetly healthy pink. Her nipples stood erect, waiting for his fingers or tongue to tease them again, and he felt the weight of her long legs about his hips, in preparation for that final merging of their bodies. Though it was one of the hardest things he'd done in his life, he pulled back and sat next to her. "Not now, Beverly, this isn't the right time." At her obviously confused look, he tried to explain himself. "I may not follow your ways, but I have studied them over the years. The rite you will perform tomorrow night, that *we* will perform, is a very potent one, and needs the full potency of all our powers. If we do this now, it will be premature, and it will drain you of your needed power. We have waited this long already, we can surely wait one more night."
Beverly sat up, replacing her shirt with a sort of reluctance. "You're right, Jean-Luc. Nana would kill me if I did this wrong now." She smiled and traced his chest lightly. "I've dreamt of this moment for years, why should I settle for anything less than perfect?"
Jean-Luc stood and held out his hand for her, pulling her up and into his arms again for a soft kiss. Silently, they made their way back to the cottage, hand in hand. At the front door, they faced each other for another soft kiss, fingers interlaced, then pulled back to rest their foreheads together. They stood this way for a few moments, reveling in their closeness.
"You know," Jean-Luc murmured, "it's rather late. Perhaps we'd be best off sneaking in the back door?"
Bev shook her head. "I know Deanna and my grandmother all too well. They'll each be at a door, waiting for us. Best to just accept it," she replied, opening the door, one hand still tightly grasping his.
"Where have you been?" Deanna asked the moment the door opened.
"Told you so," Bev murmured as Felisa came in from the kitchen. She made her way to the couch by the fire with Jean-Luc, continuing in a louder voice, "We've been out on the moor...talking." Bev curled her legs up beneath her as Jean-Luc wrapped an arm about her shoulders, pulling her closer. Bev contentedly snuggled closer, resting her head on his shoulder. She saw the look of quiet suspicion on her best friend's face, but said no more, as Felisa moved to sit across from them.
"You look frozen, children," Felisa said, then turned to Deanna. "Fey-child, go get mugs for tea for the two of them." Deanna looked as if to protest, but a glance from the woman stayed her tongue and she went off to do as told. Felisa's gaze returned to the couple before her. "So, daughter of my daughter, what exactly did you talk about?"
Innocently asked, but the intent was anything but innocent. Bev leaned forward to take her grandmother's hand. "All we did was talk, Nana, set the record straight regarding parts of our past." She weathered the scrutinous look from the elder Howard. "Difficult as it was, we resisted temptation, at Jean-Luc's insistence."
"Then...?" Felisa asked as Deanna returned with the steaming tea.
Bev curled back into Jean-Luc's arms, took the proffered mug from Deanna. "All is still as planned for tomorrow night."
"Then we should all be off to bed. We will all need our fullest strength for tomorrow night's events," Felisa replied, standing to head upstairs. Automatically, Deanna rose to follow her. They stopped at the foot of the stairs. "Cerridwen? Aren't you coming?"
"If you don't mind, I'd like to sit here a bit longer with Jean-Luc. We have so many lost years to make up." The gleam in her eyes, the love she felt for this man was so obvious.
"For a bit, child," Felisa finally relented. "But not very long. You *do* need your rest." And with that, she went up to bed.
Deanna stood there fora moment, basking in the love emanating from the couple by the fire. "I'll sleep in the guest room tonight, Beverly," she said softly, "so you can be alone together."
"No," Jean-Luc replied quickly. "We will stay in separate rooms, to avoid temptation." Deanna nodded and headed upstairs. He watched her leave, then turned his gaze to the beautiful woman nestled in his arms, gazing dreamily into the fire. "Penny," he said softly, as she'd so often asked him.
Bev's eyes flickered to his. "I was just thinking."
"What our friends would say if we return to the ship handfasted. Nana could do it for us...if you want."
"I want. And I believe our friends will be saying *finally*. But that doesn't matter to me. What matters to me now is that we right this wrong we've both made."
"Me, too," she murmured, yawning.
Jean-Luc stood, guided Bev up the stairs. At the door to her room, he stopped her, held her hands in his, and kissed her softly. "Thank you."
She looked at him quizzically. "For what?"
"Finally finding that courage to do what was to have happened in the first place," he replied, then leaned in to whisper in her ear, "I love you, Beverly, always have." And then he turned and went to his room.
**31 October 2369 .. Samhain .. Full Moon**
Beverly stood in her red robe, trying not to panic, as Felisa painted the blue crescent moon on her forehead. "Stop fidgeting, Cerridwen," she scolded, trying to cover a smile. "You're worse than you were twenty-one years ago."
"I am not!" Bev replied, indignant, as Deanna giggled.
"Well, I'd hate to feel what you felt then," the Betazoid quipped, smoothing the wrinkles from her spotless white robe. "I'm ready to jump out of my skin right now, thanks to you and the captain here."
"Not my fault," he replied as Felisa turned to paint the antlers of Kernunnos on his brow. They stood out against his skin to match the forest green of his robe.
"Of course not," Deanna chuckled, then stood still to receive both symbols on her own brow. She bowed her head in reverence to the power the black-robed Felisa exuded.
Felisa looked fondly at the three of them, smiling, the very picture of the Goddess in her guise as Mother. "My children, it is time. May She guide us on this night of destinies met."
Slowly, quietly, the quartet made their way to the cliff. Almost the entire village had shown up for this ritual. At first, that idea had daunted Jean-Luc and Deanna, but the Howard women quickly allayed their fears, stating that concentration on the ritual would take precedence over anything else. At the edge of the clearing, the villagers stopped, allowing the four celebrants on toward the sacred circle. Bev watched as Felisa entered the circle from the northeast quarter. She wondered how all four of them would fit within the nine-foot circle, then shook her head, clearing the thought away. She couldn't waste precious time and energy on trivial things.
Felisa stood in the middle of the circle, silently meditating for a moment, then turned and beckoned Deanna into the circle. The Betazoid stepped up to her, knelt before her, head tilted upward. Felisa placed a hand on the dark head and smiled. "Welcome, Deanna, fey child of the blessed earth, to this sacred circle. May you receive Her spirit and Her blessing in this magickal working."
"So mote it be," Deanna replied softly, then turned to stand in the north quarter.
Felisa next motioned to Jean-Luc, who entered and knelt at her feet. She placed her hand on his head, smiling. "Welcome, Jean-Luc, child of water, to this sacred circle. May you receive Her spirit and Her blessing in this magickal working."
"So mote it be," he replied, turned to stand behind her in the west quarter.
And then, Felisa beckoned Beverly near. Bev took a deep breath, then entered the circle, kneeling at her grandmother's feet. Felisa placed both hands on her head, smiled broadly at her granddaughter. "Welcome, Cerridwen, child of fire, daughter of my daughter, child of the Goddess Herself, to this sacred circle. May you receive Her spirit and Her blessing in this magickal working."
"So mote it be," Bev murmured, then turned to take her place in the south as Felisa turned to the east. Bev stood there for a bit, then walked over to her grandmother, pulling the black-handled athame from her belt. Slowly, she walked the circumference of the circle, a pale silver-blue flame flowing from the blade to the ground, creating a ring of fire about them, defining the boundaries in which they would work, though seen only from the corner of one's eye. Twice more, she walked the circle deosil, creating a triple line of silver-blue flame to protect all outside from the elemental forces within, and to protect those within from outside influences. This done, she sheathed the blade and returned to her place in the south.
Felisa surveyed the construction of the circle, then smiled at her granddaughter, before turning to face out of the circle. She raised her hands and head skyward. "We call upon the spirits of the east, guardians of the air, the hawk, the raven, and the eagle, and entreat them to join us in this sacred circle, to lend us their protection and guidance in this sacred working." And then a flutter of wings on a soft breeze was felt by the celebrants and the faint image of a raven perched on Felisa's shoulder.
Beverly turned to face southward, arms and head turned skyward. "We call upon the spirits of the south, guardians of the sacred flame, the lion, the phoenix, and the dragon, and entreat them to join us in this sacred circle, to lend us their protection and guidance in this sacred working." Another flutter of wings brought the heat of flames to the four and the faint image of a dragon perched next to Bev, its tail curled about her feet.
Jean-Luc turned, a bit disquieted, to face the west, trying to remember the formula he'd been taught earlier in the day, and turned his hands and head upward. "We call upon the spirits of the west, guardians of life-giving water, the dolphin, the swan, and the crab, and entreat them to join us in this sacred circle, to lend us their protection and guidance in this sacred working." The sound of gurgling water was heard and the faint image of a trumpeter swan rested next to Jean-Luc, a regal matching.
Deanna faced the north, extended her hands and head skyward. "We call upon the spirits of the north, guardians of the earth, the bear, the stag, and the wolf, and entreat them to join us in this sacred circle, to lend us their protection and guidance in this sacred working." The ground trembled slightly, then the faint image of a large, lone wolf sat next to the petite Betazoid.
They turned to face each other, elemental guardians moving with them. Each looked at the animal guarding the others. Bev smiled at the sight of the raven with Felisa, both garbed in the black of the Crone, though she was still used to seeing her grandmother with the bear of the northern quarter. And in that northern quarter, the wolf sitting next to Deanna seemed so appropriate, but she wasn't sure why. Then she turned to look at the swan with Jean-Luc, a large regal trumpeter, nearly of a height with the man, wished it was herself standing so next to him. At that thought she felt the brush of a large wingtip on her back. She smiled and turned slightly to see her familiar, Thraig, there. A sense of well-being came over her at his presence. He always accompanied her in these magickal workings, protecting her and those she held dear.
The three women moved to the center of the circle, surrounding the altar there. Deanna picked up a white candle, lit it from the presence candle there, then faced east. "I call on the Goddess, the Maiden of Spring, guardian of youthful pleasures, to join and guide us in this transference of powers. So mote it be." And she placed the candle in its holder, then stepped back a pace, as Beverly lit the blood-red candle, also facing east. "I call on the Goddess, Mother of Summer, giver and nurturer of life, to join and guide us in this transference of powers. So mote it be." And as she set her candle in its holder, she watched her grandmother light the black candle, then fluidly turn east. "I call on the Goddess, Crone of Autumn, Death Hag of Winter, possessor of great wisdom, harbinger of death and the afterlife, to join and guide us in this transference of powers. So mote it be." And she added the third candle, then the women returned to their places as Jean-Luc stepped forward to pick up and light the forest green candle. He also faced east, clearing his throat to say, "I call on the God, the great Horned One, protector of the forests and the beasts, consort of the Goddess, to join and guide us in this transference of powers. So mote it be." He added the candle to the formation, then returned to his place.
Felisa stepped forward again, surveyed every being in the circle. "This is the night of the ancestors, the night when the veil between worlds is thinnest, when the ancestors may walk the earth once again. We entreat our ancestors, the proud ancestors of the Howard clan to protect and guide us as we transfer the powers of High Priestess from your child Morgan to your child Cerridwen." Beverly smiled at the sound of her grandmother's true name, a sudden comfort to her. Felisa motioned Beverly and Deanna forward. Both Howard women knelt before Deanna, heads bowed with respect to her role as facilitator in this rite. Deanna picked up a handful of fresh loam from the ground and mixed it with water into a paste which she placed in a small dish over a candle to heat. She blew on the flames, encouraging the fire to burn brighter, then dipped her finger into the mixture and drew a banishing pentacle on Felisa's head, saying, "By this banishing pentacle on your brow may your powers be drawn forth from you." Again her finger went into the mixture, this time drawing the pentacle of reception on Beverly's forehead. "By this power-drawing pentacle on your brow may these powers be drawn into you." Placing a hand on both heads, Deanna closed her eyes, actually felt the surge of power flowing from Felisa through herself and into Beverly. When she felt nothing more, she opened her eyes and said, "The transfer is now complete. Upon the death of this child Morgan, the powers and rights of rulership shall pass on to this child Cerridwen. If for some reason, Morgan may not correctly and wisely wield her powers before her death, the transfer will be forced upon Cerridwen in another ritual. Until then, Cerridwen is to be treated as if she were High Priestess in all ways and at all times that Morgan is not present. And as she is also to become leader of her clan, the proper respect owed a clan chieftain is accorded her. So mote it be."
Deanna stepped back as Felisa stood and beckoned Jean-Luc to come join Beverly. He knelt before the elder Howard, glancing sideways to see the sweet serenity on Bev's face. Felisa smiled down at them as Deanna bound their left hands with a white cord from the altar. Felisa stood over them, smiling, and wrapped her hands about theirs. "It always does my heart good to perform these handfastings, but especially so when I am uniting two souls the Goddess Herself has deemed should be together for all eternity. Beverly, Jean-Luc, your souls are already bound together in Her eyes, but now I will make it legal among us mortals. Jean-Luc, do you swear to uphold your feelings for Beverly, through the will of the Goddess, for a year and a day, to decide for further handfasting or handparting at that time?"
"I so swear."
"And, Beverly, daughter of my daughter, do you swear to uphold your feelings for Jean-Luc, through the will of the Goddess, for a year and a day, to decide for further handfasting or handparting at that time?"
"I so swear."
Beverly expected the blessing of handfasting at that point, and was surprised to see Felisa turn to Deanna. "And you, fey-child, do you swear to uphold and protect the love of these two, through the will of the Goddess, for a year and a day, until they decide for further handfasting or handparting at that time?"
"I so swear."
"And do you swear to sanctify this marriage through the ties of the homeland by which you are hereby bound?"
"I so swear," Deanna repeated, sealing herself within this marriage pact as the unifying force, just as the land had been in the Great Marriages of ancient times.
Felisa smiled and turned to give the blessing, then stopped and placed Deanna's hands on the bound ones instead. Deanna looked at her, a bit panicked. "It's alright, fey-child, you are bound to them through the land and the Goddess, and it will be your word that continues or dissolves this handfasting in a year and a day. You have the right to perform the blessing of handfasting." It wouldn't be until months later that they would understand the sobering significance of those words.
Deanna took a deep breath, then smiled at her friend and her captain. "By the blessing of the Goddess and the guardians of the quarters, I hereby grant and bless this handfasting. May you live in the light of the Goddess. And may your union bring you joy and children to carry on the traditions of the clan," she said, a small smile playing about her lips. Bev and Jean-Luc looked at her oddly at that, but said nothing as Deanna unbound their hands. Bev knew it was a standard part of the blessing, and besides, they had Wes.
Quickly, and with reverence, they dismissed the elemental guardians and the deities, then Bev released the circle's energy into the ground. With the ritual over, everyone went off to keep their own remembrances of those who had gone on before them, leaving just the quartet behind.
Felisa smiled at them. "You all did very well, my children. For beginners, you did very well, Deanna and Jean-Luc. And, my dear Cerridwen, you performed as if you hadn't stopped your rituals." Bev blushed at the compliment, catching the reproach couched within it. "And now, we will leave the two of you alone to seal the handfasting. Come, fey-child, I wish to discuss with you the significance of the elemental you summoned, as well as your obvious skill at performing within the sacred circle." Deanna nodded and helped the older woman carry all of the magickal items back to the cottage, leaving the couple to stare at each other a little nervously.
"Now what?" Jean-Luc asked softly.
"You know fully well what happens now, Jean-Luc. We do what we stopped ourselves from doing last night."
"Here? Where anyone could come upon us?" The gentleman in him was resurfacing.
"You weren't too worried about that the last two times we were in this same situation," she quipped lightly, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.
"That was different. I was overcome with relief and...desire."
Bev walked up to him, stood very close, whispered in his ear, "And you feel neither right now?" His reply wasn't spoken, but felt very obviously, and she smiled again. "I love you, Jean-Luc, I want you to make love to me just like you did twenty-one years ag-" And her words were cut off by his mouth covering hers hungrily.
**30 June 2370 .. Blue Moon**
Beverly smiled broadly, leaning on her husband for support, and looked on as Deanna held the tiny girl in her arms, drawing the symbol of the Goddess on her little forehead. She knew that Deanna had come a long way in her studies of the ways of the Goddess, as precipitated by Felisa before her death. All of this was unbeknownst to Jean-Luc, who stood there watching his daughter's consecration, proud as a peacock. Deanna walked to the edge of the cliff, held the infant up to the moon, letting its rays shine down on her. "Great Mother, I offer forth this child into your care and service. She shall henceforth be known to you and all others as Morgan Felisa Howard, after the great-grandmother who brought about the final circumstances that precipitated her birth. May she follow Your path and find love and happiness in Your light. And when the time is right, may she take from her mother the mantle of power as Your High Priestess to the clan Howard. May she grow in Your ways and take on her destiny when it is presented to her."
And then, Beverly was holding her hours-old daughter in her arms, the child she knew she would bear the night she was handfasted to Jean-Luc, just as she'd known when he'd fathered Wes. She kissed the light red down on her tiny head and tears welled in her eyes again. "Hello, my little daughter. Welcome to the world you were so anxious to enter. May it be for you as you want it. I love you, my sweet child." And then she looked up at the moon, turned the tiny head to face it. "Nana, here she is, the next Howard High Priestess. May she rule our clan as well as you did," she said, paused a second to wipe away a tear. "And, Mother, please don't be upset that I'm raising her in the Old Ways. It is what's best for her, for all of us."
And then, Jean-Luc took the baby from her, handing the child to Deanna again. "You need to get back to bed, Beverly. This was a long, difficult labor for you, and you should have rested before this ritual. It's taken too much out of you."
"I'm fine, Jean-Luc," she replied, then turned sharply to look off to the south. There stood Thraig, her familiar, and in its outstretched claws was a tiny dragon, still partly in the shell. It held out the baby dragon toward her. She turned to get her baby, but Deanna was already putting the child in her arms. Beverly walked slowly toward the image of the dragons and held out Morgan so that the image of the baby dragon touched her. A soft coo came from Morgan's mouth at the touch. Bev looked up into the wise eyes of her dragon-guide. "Thank you, Thraig. May they learn and grow together." She turned to face her husband and best friend as the image of the dragons disappeared.
"Welcome home, Cerridwen and Morgan," Deanna said softly, the glow of the Goddess shining in her eyes.