Part 5

Beverly woke slowly, wincing as sore muscles protested. Her smile was pure smug satisfaction as she recalled just how she acquired that soreness. She reached out but found only empty bed beside her.

"Jean-Luc?" Her smile dropped to a frown when there was no answer. Calling out once more, she climbed out of bed, grabbing her robe. The living area was empty. Hurrying through the suite, she called his name again and again, more frantically each time. His bedroom was untouched from the day before, and he wasn't on the balcony either. Sinking onto the couch, she concentrated on her breathing and tried to slow her pounding heart. He had to be somewhere. Was it real, or was she dreaming? But which was the dream - last night with Jean-Luc or this morning, being all alone?

She covered her face with her hands. She knew, somewhere along the line, this would be real. If not now, later, when it would hurt even more. Jean-Luc would be gone, and she would be alone... again.

A warm hand on her shoulder brought her head up, but despite the concern on his face, she never heard his words. "I can't do this!" she moaned, pushing him away. "I can't let you in. I can't let you hurt me. I won't survive this time!" She leapt up, but Jean-Luc wouldn't let her get away.

"Beverly!" he said sharply. He caught her shoulders and gently but firmly made her sit back down.

She didn't even let him ask the obvious question. Her voice was low and harsh. "I woke up, and you were gone, just like in all my nightmares. I'm always alone. I call and call - for my mother, Nana, Jack, you - and there's never any answer. It's very quiet, and I'm alone."

Jean-Luc cursed himself. He had thought about making the plans over the comm system, but he'd been afraid she would overhear and spoil his surprise. He brushed her hair back to cup her cheek. "I'm so sorry, Beverly. I never meant for you to wake up alone. I didn't think it would take so long."

She looked at him with eyes almost as empty they had been when she was sick. "It's all right," she said flatly. "It's better to end it now. I'll request a transfer as soon as we get back to the ship. There shouldn't be a problem getting a replacement -"

"Oh, no, you don't," he interrupted. "I'm not going to let you push me away. We've gone too far to turn back now, my love. We'll work through this."

"Jean-Luc, I can't do this again. I've done it too many times in my life."

"But it's not just your life any more. It involves me, too." He pulled her into his arms. "For nearly an hour this morning, I watched you sleep. Hardly a new experience given the last few weeks, but this time it was different. This time you were mine. This time, I had the right to lie next to you, holding you close and feeling your heart beat next to mine. You gave me that right last night, and I'm not giving it back. You've always found a way to help me defeat my demons, now I intend to do the same thing for you."

She gently extricated herself from his embrace. "You still don't understand, Jean-Luc. I've had these 'demons' most of my life. I don't get rid of them, I just keep adding to them." She laughed bitterly. "Do you know what a vicious circle it is to be afraid to get close to people because you're afraid to lose them because you're terrified of being alone except that not letting people in means you're alone anyway?"

"No, I don't, but little by little you'll make me understand. And that's how you'll learn to deal with it, too. You'll quit letting the fear rule your life."

"You sound like Deanna," Beverly said, looking away.

"Don't knock my ship's counselor or your best friend," he cautioned.

"She's not." The words were spoken so softly he wasn't quite certain of what he'd heard. Jean-Luc reached out and covered her hand with his. She lifted eyes glittering with unshed tears to meet his. "Deanna's not my best friend, you are. Help me, Jean-Luc."

The very first thing he did was hold her as she cried softly.

When she cried herself to sleep, he carried her back to their bed and this time, he made sure she didn't wake up alone.

oxo

It took some effort and considerable self control from both, but they did make it out of the suite for the romantic evening Jean-Luc had planned the previous night.

oxo

Beverly spent most of the last two days of their holiday the same way she had spent the first two - in bed. This time, however, she did a lot less sleeping.

The 'remedy' not only completed her recuperation, but allowed Jean-Luc to begin to heal her heart as well.

oxo

Epilogue

Deanna and Will met them in the shuttle bay. The men immediately began talking business, while the women caught up on more important matters.

The quartet entered the turbolift. "Deck eight," the captain ordered for himself and the doctor.

"Deanna and I are on our way to Ten Forward for dinner," Riker said. "Would you care to join us?"

With a glance at Jean-Luc, Beverly replied for both of them. "No thanks, it was a long ride in the shuttle."

Deanna took advantage of the relative privacy of the lift. "Well, you both certainly look better than when you left."

Picard shrugged. "Considering our conditions when we left, that wasn't exactly difficult to accomplish. Besides, that's the whole point of shore leave, isn't it, rest and relaxation?" He paused as the lift opened on deck eight. Aiming a quick wink at Beverly, he took her hand in his as they stepped out. "Breaking down a few personal barriers helps, too." The unexpected insight was offered so casually that his audience nearly missed its significance.

With a wicked grin, Beverly added slyly, "Well, that and some really incredible sex!" The door closed on their stunned faces and her mischievous laugh.

The End