Title: "The Hard Study of Love"
Author: Pirate Turner
Rating: G
Summary: True love even sees past finals studying. Rich/Dana
Disclaimer: Rich Halke, Dana Foster, Karen Foster, Alicia "Al" Lambert, and Step By Step and all characters within this story are © & TM their respective owners and are used without permission. Everything else is © & TM Pirate Turner. The author makes absolutely no profit off of this work of fan fiction.

His dark eyes gazed adoringly upon his beloved as she continued to read over her notes, her blue eyes flitting swiftly across the pages of her books and notebooks and her pencil occasionally dotting something down. She was so beautiful, and yet she never seemed to realize just how much she stole his breath away and left him gasping for air every time he looked at her.

"Don't look at me like that," her flat voice instructed him as she turned another page in her thick textbook.

Her sudden statement surprised him, and he blinked. "Like what?" he asked innocently with a confused grin.

"Like you want me." Even as she answered his question, she continued to read, never once looking up.

"But I do," he protested, standing and walking over to her. He wrapped his arms gently around his love and nuzzled her neck, sending waves of delicious sensations coursing through her. "I always want you."

"Not now, Rich." It took every inch of her willpower not to turn into his embrace or to at least look at him. "You know I have to study."

"But you've been studying all night," he whispered his complaint so close to her neck that his breath tickled her skin.

"Which, unfortunately, is not nearly enough," she informed him matter-of-factly, struggling to suppress the giggle that rose in the back of her throat as his breath tickled her, "as the final is only two days away."

His head raised, and he pressed his face into her hair. He closed his eyes as he breathed in the scent of her. "Rich," she said softly, her firm voice destroying the moment, "you know how important my education is to me."

"Of course, I do, honey, but it's after midnight. You've been up since five this morning; you told me so yourself. This can't be good for you."

"If you really want to help me, Rich, you'll go fix me a snack and something to drink."

He sighed heavily but nonetheless pressed a gentle kiss to her silky hair. "Anything for you, love." He reluctantly released her, turned, and left the room.

The very second the door closed, Dana sighed. She dropped her pencil as she reached up to rub her temples and then her eyes. She was so tired, but she had to keep studying. She had to keep her grades up as high as possible or else everything would fall apart. She knew how important a high education was not only for her own life but for any life or lives she might one day have to support. Although there was nothing she wanted more in the present than to be with Rich and in his loving embrace, she knew she could not allow herself that luxury until she had passed all her finals for even one moment with him would be a moment that she did not study and yet could cost her a point on the test.

Dana yawned loudly as her hands dropped, and she forced herself to return her attention to her textbook. The words seemed to blend together as she stared down at them. Studying when I'm this sleepy isn't good. Maybe if I just rest my eyes until he gets back? Dana had too little willpower left from having to fight against her burning desire to be acting on all the love she had for Rich alone than to be able to fight too much against the exhaustion that flooded her mind, body, and soul simultaneously. Her head dropped down onto her textbook even as she told herself, Just a couple of minutes . . .

"Here you . . . " Rich's voice broke off abruptly as he turned into the room only to have his eyes land upon his love's sleeping form. He smiled to himself as he thought, Well, it's about time. He walked over and placed the saucer holding the sandwich and the glass of milk onto Dana's desk before turning to her.

As Rich gazed down at his sleeping beauty, he thought of how she had been ever since it had been announced that the finals would be earlier than originally planned. He stifled a sigh as he shook his head. Rich knew Dana loved him just as much as he loved her, but even despite their love, he was still unable to make her see what so much intense studying did to her and that, with a brain as remarkably genius as hers, she didn't need to study every waking moment.

Yet, no matter how much she studied and forced herself to ignore his attempts to take her mind off of preparing for the dreaded finals, he could not be angry at her for spending all her time studying. He didn't know why she'd studied so much before they'd fallen in love, but he knew why she did now. They both realized how important a good, solid education was to their future, but she was the only one who had the brains for Harvard and the heavy-paying jobs. Though neither had put voice to the thoughts, he knew she fully expected to have to support not only herself but also him.

Although he hadn't told her yet, he was determined to find a way that she would not have to spend every moment working so that they could have the good things in life. She deserved far better than that, and although he could never hope to be able to give her everything she deserved, he would do everything within his power to give her as much as he could. Perhaps he couldn't make the big bucks that lawyers and doctors did, but he could still bring in money. He knew where his skill lay, and he would perfect his pottery until he could make a living off of selling it.

Rich tilted his head slightly to one side as he gazed thoughtfully down at Dana. That was still a long way into their future, but he'd prove to her that he could take care of her just as well as she could and did take care of him. He bent down and gently picked her up. The extra time he'd secretly been spending at the gym paid off as he was able to lift her and hold her close to his chest. Her head rested on his shoulder as he turned and carried her to her bed. He bent again as he laid her down, and she sighed softly but did not wake as her head touched her soft pillow.

He gently stroked her hair back as he gazed lovingly down at his soul mate. She had long ago become everything to him. She was his Queen, and he would find a way to make himself worthy of her love. Rich glanced over at the other beds in the room as he remembered that Karen was spending the night at a sleepover while Al was staying at another friend's house and spending the night studying or, at least, pretending to do so.

He looked back at his lady love and smiled; he had plenty of time. He walked back over to the doorway; he then closed and locked the door and turned off the light before returning to the bed. He slid into the bed on the opposite side and leaned over Dana as he pulled the blankets up over first her and then himself. His arms wrapped gently around her sleeping form as he laid down. He would not try anything that night; he only wanted to know what it felt like to hold the woman he loved while sleeping. Besides, if she woke and he was not there, she'd immediately return to study; if he was, perhaps he could talk her out of it.

The End