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         "Captain, we have already been through this, and I will not --"

 

         Picard's eyes flashed like cold steel. "With all due respect Admiral, you will. Because after all that my ship and crew have been through these few months it's damn well worth a court-martial to speak my mind! My First Officer nearly died in the line of duty, only to be dismissed out of hand with little more than a thank you. Meanwhile, as he fights for his life in my Sickbay, YOU badger my Counselor right into a resignation!"

 

         "Whatever happen with your Counselor, Jean-Luc, she did to herself. You were there, though you seem to have forgotten that. Her behavior was absolute insubordination and she knew it. The only reason the woman resigned was to spare herself the consequences of her actions.

 

         "You cannot be serious! If you truly believe that, then you do not know the slightest thing about Deanna Troi. her actions may have been inappropriate, but they were surely understandable, with her fiancee practically dying down the hall. Protocol be damned man, you might have shown a bit of compassion rather than exacerbating the situation!"

 

         As if Picard's thoughts had somehow had a physical effect on him, Bryant's eyes seemed to soften immediately. "I had no idea that your officers were so, connected Captain." And then, as suddenly as before, Bryant's expression changed again, as the mask he had worn for so long slipped back into place. "That is however...no excuse. An officer is an officer first, and they both knew that!"

 

         Picard knew that his reactions were no more that of an officer than Troi's had been, but somehow in this moment, he didn't care. For that mater, neither were the Admiral's. That they should have go through this at all was heartwrenching enough for him. That it should be made worse by one of his oldest friends seemed to make it even more painful. Of course, he also knew that the Steven Bryant he had known would never have let things go this far. But then, that was before Sarah...

 

         "Whatever happened to being people? Good Lord, we aren't at war anymore Steven. Have we jaded ourselves so far as to forget humanity? Yes, there are times that we cannot allow our personal feelings into our work, and maybe it WAS wrong now, but you of all people --"

 

         "So, now it is a matter of timing as to who gets to feel, Jean-Luc? Who gets to live and who has to die? And you think this is right? Well, I have news for you Captain, it will never be *right* again!

 

         "Bitterness won't give you back your family Steven. Nothing can." Picard's voice was quiet, "And making others go through the same kind of pain unnecessarily won't make it anymore right now than it was then." He leveled his eyes on Bryant, "I doubt it will even make you feel any better."

 

         Bryant moved to stare out the viewport of Picard's quarters for long moments. Vision's of that night, the ones that had haunted his dreams for three years now, flashed before him once again. And he was ashamed, for the first time in a long time. "Dear God, Jean-Luc...when did I become uniform? Three years ago, I would have taken apart any officer in Starfleet if it meant getting my ship to that outpost. Instead, I sucked it up like a good officer and did my job. I lost everything that mattered, but hey, what the hell I did get a new pip on my collar for the sacrifice. Because I took one for the team. Trouble is, ever since that day...I've been playing on the wrong team."

 

         Picard didn't know what to say, so he said nothing. In all the years that he had known this man, he had never seen him in what he would have called a fragile state...at least until this point. After a long and uncomfortable silence, Bryant's voice suddenly cut in.

 

         "In any event, I don't think you need to fear for you Counselor's career at this point. At the last count, I have had no less than five of Starfleet's top brass contact me in the last 48 hours. It would seem that your report of the incident that lead to her resignation was more than a little on the sketchy side." He allowed Picard a slight smile. "It also seems that you beat me to the punch on this one. Regardless of what I tried to tell them, it seems Starfleet is not prepared to lose yet another of their best officers. So now, I find myself in the rather uncomfortable position of having to eat a little crow in hopes of winning over Deanna Troi."

 

         Picard had to chuckle at that in spite of himself. "I wish you good luck, sir. And I fear you are going to need it. I have a feeling this resignation is something she will be veiwing as a positive under the circumstances."

 

         Bryant nodded thoughtfully. "And rightly so, I suppose. But I am sure that there are ways to work around that. He fixed Picard with an amused gaze. "And you are just the man to find those ways."

 

         "Now, wait a moment --" Before Picard could get anything more out, Bryant had made his way to the door of the Captain's quarters.

 

         Bryant turned back with the first genuine grin he had managed in three long years. "Oh, and Capitain....just for being such a good sport on this issue, I'll forget about your little show of insubordination as well. For the good of the Enterprise, of course."

 

         The smile Picard tried to hide was betrayed by eyes that, only a while ago had been filled with anger. "Oh, yes. Of course."