Summary: Sometime between "Journey's End" and "Nemesis," Wesley puts on the uniform.
Timeline: There once was a Dominion War, and when it began, bad things happened.
Characters: Wesley, Picard, Crusher.
Author's Note: brightcupenny sparked a bazillion fic bunnies with this comment, in which she links to a picture of Wesley back in uniform in "Nemesis." The ficbunnies are multiplying like crazy, and this is latenight babbling meant to stop the bleeding. I meant to rattle off all her challenge ficlets at once, but it got late.
The infirmary is darker than he remembers, covered in the shadows of artificial starship nighttime.
Wesley has lived on the planet Iridan for six months, another colony world for a year before that, before that another, watching, feeling, learning, experimenting, reaching up and touching the boundaries of dimensions and time and space and just barely seeing what he might be able to touch the following day. Following year. Following lifetime.
That's over now. It doesn't have to be, he knows. His studies weren't meant to end in the now-destroyed DMZ, but they will, here, now. They'll become something else. He just... knows.
He has learned something in his time away, no doubt, but at the moment, in the darkened infirmary, he has a hard time seeing what that might be.
He lived on a starship -- or an outpost or a colony or within Starfleet Academy walls -- for many times the years he spent in the DMZ, but now he can smell the artificial sterility of the air and the walls feel too close and the sound of the doctors and nurses and scanning equipment is driving him crazy.
He spent most of his life listening to doctors and nurses and medical scanners, too, but that was different. His mother's voice was always the strongest among them.
She's here now, his mother, lying on her own diagnostic biobed, and the sound of the monitoring equipment is too loud for him to even hear her breathing. She looks nothing like he remembers. When he left, she was vibrant and alive, the same as she always was, Mom. Logically, he knows that before yesterday she was still that way, before the unexpected attack by three Cardassian warships that left the Enterprise limping half-blind through now-contested territory, before she was trapped and decompressed and nearly killed while trying to operate a triage center for colony refugees in the cargo bay.
She's pale, unmoving beyond forced respiration, barely visible beneath the dermal patches, and Wesley finds himself afraid to touch her hand, because then he'll feel like he needs to talk, and he has no idea what to say when she isn't going to answer until -- if -- she wakes up.
He couldn't see it coming. He has been wrapped in time, space, thought, for years, and he...
Not that it would have made a difference if he was here. If he stayed in Starfleet, he wouldn't necessarily have been on the Enterprise. He couldn't have stopped the war.
He thought he could do things like that. When he left with the Traveler... he thought he was going to be a force of good for the universe, and now he sees that, either way, there's nothing he could have done.
He still feels something. Not guilt.
The Captain has changed, too. His voice sounds more tired than Wesley has ever heard it before, but he doesn't know if that's because of the situation, because the peace treaty and the Enterprise and the Cardassian border and his Chief Medical Officer are all broken, or because before, when Wesley was on the Enterprise, everything sounded different.
"Captain." It's hard to resist the urge to stand at attention.
Picard doesn't sit down right away, only hovers over Wesley's shoulder, looking at readouts and at the woman on the biobed.
"She's shown some improvement," Wesley offers. "Nothing definitive one way or the other..."
"Dr. Renat gave me a full report," Picard cuts him off, but not unkindly. Differently than the way he used to. Like Wesley is no longer a child. "She's strong."
Wesley feels something in his throat, something tight and hollow all at once, and thinks of his father. "I know."
Captain Picard rests a hand on the biobed, but doesn't touch her.
"She knew you were here."
Wesley doesn't answer. That doesn't surprise him. He didn't send her letters nearly often enough, had made a conscious effort to get away from her and the Captain and his former life in an attempt to build a new one...
But when the first Jem'Hadar explosive charge detonated in the atmosphere, he knew with a flash of knowing, the kind of knowledge he has been seeking all this time, that he wasn't going to die, that Captain Picard, that the Enterprise, that his mother would be there.
He just didn't expect that his reunion with them would be quite like this, and he hates that he doesn't know with that same certainty that she will be all right, that the Enterprise will make it back to Federation territory... that the Federation will survive.
It surprises him how fiercely he still cares about that. He was never, it seems, able to disown it entirely.
"I left, Captain..." Wesley says, but he's not really speaking to Picard. He knows now that the Captain can't magically make the universe fall into line. "But I'm not ready to let go of her."
He looks up just in time to see something, raw emotion, pass over the older man's face, and Wesley realizes with a shock that he's never really looked at him before. Not without... something. Nervousness, anger, reverence.
Wesley finally bridges the gap and touches her hand, relieved to find it warm. He remembers her hand, the feel of her skin, how she used to hold him by the fingers when he was a child and they were in unfamiliar territory, how he used to hold onto her when he was tired or ill or confused and needed someone to kiss him and tuck him in and explain the world.
The next breath she draws is deeper, almost normal. She suffered burns on the inside of her lungs, and Dr. Renat is still concerned at how the tissue regeneration isn't taking, how the oxygen levels in her blood are dangerously low.
"How are the repairs, Captain?" He doesn't know why he asks. Habit, maybe, from a different Enterprise.
Picard tells him, in broad strokes. Communications are still down. They have no idea what's happening to the rest of the quadrant now that the Cardassians have allied themselves with the Dominion. It's probably best not to speculate.
"It's good to see you again, Wesley. I wish it were under better circumstances."
That's an understatement of epic proportions, given what just happened in the DMZ, but it's really the only thing that can be said. "I wish I could do something to help."
Wesley has no suggestions, no magical otherworldly powers to offer them, not even a science project hidden in the back of his closet that might repair their engines or bring his mother out of a coma.
Surprisingly, Picard has an answer. "We're undermanned since the attack. We could use someone at the helm during Gamma shift."
He hasn't flown a starship in years -- fortunately, there's not much damage he could do at half impulse -- but that's the first thing that has felt like a direction, has felt right since that first weapon detonated above his former, temporary home.
The Captain continues, "If you would prefer to remain here, I understand. She is your mother."
Wesley has no doubt in his mind what his mother would tell him to do, if she were awake. He thinks Picard understands, too. "No, Captain. Thank you, but I'd like to help." He could drop by Engineering afterward, too. The ships systems are unfamiliar because she is a new class and a new design, one barely on the drawing board when Wesley left the academy, but he still knows how to reconfigure power relays. That doesn't change.
Wesley pilots the ship at half-impulse and reconfigures power relays, even offers up some far-out-of-the-box suggestions that help with the dilithium chamber and make Geordi smile and talk about the 'good old days.'
When Beverly Crusher wakes up two days later, able to breathe and talk and hug him as tightly as she ever has, he's made up his mind.
"Does it feel like moving backward?" she worries, holding his hand. She has hardly let him go since regaining consciousness, touching his arm to make a point or brushing his hair back, like he's still a child. Wesley has missed that about her. "Joining Starfleet again after everything that happened?"
It doesn't, and he tells her so.
"If you're doing this because of the Dominion, because Starfleet-" They've repaired the communications array. It hasn't really sunk in yet, but they know they are at war.
"I'm not." He didn't really leave because of Starfleet, either.
He's still on the same journey, one that seems a lot longer now than it did a few years ago, standing on a transporter pad and saying goodbye.
This is just the next step.