Still Falls The Rain
by E. Wallace
Dark clouds had moved in over the last few hours, the rumble of thunder and brilliant flashes of sheet lightning heralding the coming storm.
She stood with her eyes closed, uncaring of the harsh rain that stung her face and arms and legs. Her only visible movement was a slight shaking of her shoulders as she wept silently.
The rain made the memories more vivid, but then rain was always a part of them...
...the day her mother died...
...the day she heard about Jack...
It had been raining on Amia, too, that day.
The farming colony had opted not to install a weather grid, preferring to let nature do as it wished.
Nature's wishes, however, had proven to be cataclysmic, and the adventurous pioneer spirit that could envision a new life on a new planet had been no match for the devastating forces of twisting wind and torrential rain that had ravaged the small community. A mere handful of survivors were the only remaining testament to the memories of the many that had died.
When the Enterprise received the first distress call, Beverly Crusher had warned her staff to prepare for the very real possibility that every one of the 535 colonists would have some kind of injury.
The twenty-one hours it took to reach the planet had given them grim reason to stand down from their all-out alert status. The need for active medical assistance lessened with each new report when the number of survivors trickling into the rescue areas continued to be pitifully small.
Beverly led the first team down to the surface, and taking in the situation almost at a glance, began issuing orders. After fourteen hours, the only remaining humanoid lifesigns a tricorder could pick up were those of the teams searching the rubble for bodies.
All the colonists had been accounted for except for one young woman whose small daughter was aboard the Enterprise being rocked in Deanna Troi's arms and crying for her mommy.
Beverly watched the scene, understanding all too well what the little girl was feeling. Feelings that she did not want to deal with right now.
The critical injuries had been taken care of, and her staff could easily handle the rest. Her own... energies... could be put to better use elsewhere. She turned sharply and left Sickbay, heading for the nearest transporter room.
The search through the ruins was meticulous and intensive, but they were running out of time. The ship's sensors had picked up a dense storm cell developing to the northeast of the village... and moving rapidly in their direction.
Will Riker didn't need Data's minute details about wind speed or direction or the infinitesimal chance that F4 tornadoes would not be descending on them shortly. He could see the storm now, and she would be able to see it, too... if she would only look up.
"Beverly, we've got to get out of here soon," he said, trying for a balance between stern and urgent. Not that it mattered what he said or how he said it. He knew what her answer was going to be.
She continued to move away from him, eyes shifting between the tricorder in her hand to the rocky path in front of her. She stumbled once, twice, but didn't waver from her course. "The last reading came from this direction. I know we're close!"
"So is that storm, Doctor!" His words were punctuated by the first cold drops of rain.
Ignoring him, she knelt before a pile of broken beams and smashed plaster that had once been a home, a haven, a safe harbor. With a low moan, she began scrabbling through the wreckage. She knew there was no such place as 'safe'. She had been taught that lesson time and again.
Riker moved to her side only to be forced back to avoid being struck by the chunks of debris she was tossing aside. "We haven't got time. These storms have killed too many people already, and I don't intend to give them a shot at my team!"
"The longer you're here, Commander," she snapped, never slowing in her work, "the longer there are more people in danger. I can handle this by myself."
"Yes, doctor, as in Chief Medical Officer." Determination blazed in her eyes as she looked up at him. "I'm telling you that I don't need your help, and you don't have to stay here. Get your team out of here, Commander."
She waved off his feeble protest, and they were gone from her mind before the transport even began.
The rain came down in frigid sheets, quickly drenching her, darkening her hair and weighing down her blue lab coat. The sodden material of the jacket clung to her, fighting her as she struggled out of it.
"Picard to Crusher."
Beverly groaned at the intrusion. 'I don't need this right now,' she thought as she doubled her efforts.
The page came again and there was no choice but to answer it. She slapped her communicator, leaving a smear of gray mud on her uniform. "Crusher here. I've almost reached her. It won't be long now."
"You will return to the ship immediately, Doctor. It's too dangerous down there..."
"...And all this talk is wasting valuable time," she retorted then bit back a cry as she mashed a finger. She missed the fact that there was no reply to her last transmission.
In the rising wind, she didn't hear the whine of the transporter beam. The shadow blocking the rapidly waning light was the first indication that she was no longer the only living being on the planet. Fear caught her breath in her throat, but it was something else that chilled her blood when she looked up.
Tightly controlled fury was clear on the face of Jean-Luc Picard as he loomed over her. Ignoring the wind and the rain, he silently reached out, plucking the communicator from the front of her uniform and placing it on the body she had partially uncovered. Grasping her elbow, he pulled her firmly to her feet then tapped his communicator with his free hand and said tersely, "Picard to Enterprise. Two to beam up from my signal, then lock on to Dr. Crusher's signal and beam the body to the morgue. Energize."
He did not release her until they had re-materialized on the ship.
Water pooling at her feet as it dripped from her uniform and hair, she remained motionless on transporter pad when he stepped down and turned to face her.
"Get dried off and change clothes, then report to my Ready Room, Doctor. You have five minutes." He didn't wait for a response, but accepted a towel from the transporter chief as he strode out the door, issuing orders to bridge to set course for Starbase 619 as he went.
Staring after him, she shivered, barely acknowledging the towel pushed into her hands. The coldness in his voice stunned her, even frightened her a little. At that moment, she understood the terrible risk she had taken and what could have happened because of it.
A fresh uniform and med jacket did not give her the confidence she had hoped for.
She felt the sympathetic eyes of the bridge crew on her, knowing they were aware of what had happened, that the captain had been forced to come after her. Red hair, still damp and slowly drying into a mass of unruly curls told them she hadn't been given much time to prepare before facing him. She hoped they didn't see her hand shake as she pressed the chime to the Ready Room.
Picard's brusque "Come" was not an invitation but an order.
Stepping quickly into the room, she hoped the door would close behind her just as quickly. He was standing at the window but in the reflection she could see that he was still very angry.
Turning to face her, he did not offer her a seat. He was remote, formal, businesslike.
His voice was even as he began without preamble. "Dr. Crusher, your behavior down on Amia was unacceptable. You were warned of the worsening weather situation and the danger it posed. You used your medical status to override the Away Team leader's instructions to leave the surface. You disobeyed a direct order to return to the ship."
He moved behind the desk, needing the barrier between them to keep himself from trying to shake some sense into her. "My first duty is to the safety of the crew. I cannot and will not have my officers openly defying orders, not even for humanitarian reasons.
In a genuine medical situation, I do, of course, respect your judgment. However, when you show a reckless disregard for your own safety, then as captain, I must do it for you. And I will do it, even if it means barring you from Away Teams. Is that clear?"
She nodded. She knew she deserved every word he said, knew she had no defense for her actions.
The words came out anyway.
"I couldn't leave her..."
Picard inhaled deeply and blew it out in a despairing sigh as he ran a hand over his smooth head. The professional portion of the situation was over and done. His officer had made a mistake and been reprimanded for it.
This - the personal side - was far more treacherous.
He rounded the desk and placed his hands on her shoulders, giving her a gentle, loving version of the shaking he had wanted to administer earlier. "She was already dead, Beverly! How could sacrificing your life have done anything but give her more company in the graveyard?" The anger was still there, but now concern and caring and plain, old-fashioned worry accompanied it.
"You don't understand."
"Yes, I do!" His attempt to control his own anxiety failed miserably. "You push it every single time. Arveda didn't get you and neither did Minos or Rutia IV or who knows how many others, but by the gods, you'll give the next hazard a sporting chance at evening up the score. You've never forgiven yourself for surviving when your mother died." Picard's heart twisted at the anguish his words brought, but he could think of no other way to reach her.
Her face crumpled at the mention of her mother. She remembered laughing blue eyes, soft red hair, warm hugs and the faint scent of lilacs. She wondered what Hanael, another little girl who would grow up without her mother, would remember.
"I should be getting back to Sickbay," she murmured.
He hated the sound of the words, eerily similar to the ones she had used for so long to keep them apart. Watching her leave, he wanted desperately to call her back but knew she wasn't ready yet.
She stayed in her own quarters that night... the first time in the five months they had been together. They had argued before, of course, but this was different.
Contacting her briefly to be sure she was getting some rest, he concealed his hurt that she wouldn't let him help her through this. He gave her time alone, seeing her only the next morning at the staff meeting. He never expected her to disappear when they reached the Starbase, leaving behind only her resignation and a request for Deanna to pack up the rest of her belongings to be shipped to Caldos.
A minor diplomatic crisis that couldn't be left in even the capable hands of his first officer gave her a three day head start, but at least he knew where she had gone.
Boarding a shuttle, he assured Will and Deanna there could only be two outcomes to his personal mission - either Beverly would return with him or they would both stay on Caldos.
Coming to Caldos had changed nothing. The memories were part of the baggage she brought with her and not even the warm summer rain could wash them away.
Her mind replayed the images over and over again... images of collapsed buildings and uprooted trees... of one survivor for every score of dead bodies uncovered... of children found clinging to their parents, fear still etched on their tiny, lifeless faces... of Will trying to figure out a way to convince her to return to the ship... of Jean-Luc, angry...
Jean-Luc, afraid of losing her...
"Don't you ever know when to get out of the rain?"
Her eyes flew open at the sound of the voice she had been trying to block from her mind. He stood on the path leading to the house, soaking wet, just as she was. He didn't speak again as he came slowly forward.
The rain had abated, easing to a gentle shower that soothed the previous stings. As he moved closer, she turned her head, knowing that despite the rain, he would see she was crying. She remained stiff and unyielding as he folded her into his embrace, burying his face in her wet hair.
"Promise me," he murmured hoarsely, his lips soft and warm against her neck, "promise me you will never voluntarily leave me again. Losing you would be terrible, but having you walk away is unbearable."
With a soft wail, she wrapped her arms around him, sobbing out her grief over losses too many to count.
He held her tightly, giving silent thanks to whatever gods might be listening for keeping her safe, for bringing her into his life, for creating her in the first place.
The rain slowed, finally stopping as the clouds parted here and there. Beams of sunlight slanted through to create tiny rainbows in the drops of water that hung like jewels from the trees and plants.
Dried off, in clean clothes and with hot tea in hand, he wouldn't let her retreat into the corner of the couch, following her there, wanting to stay as close as possible. They hadn't talked much since coming inside, communicating mostly with looks and touches.
"I'm so sorry, Jean-Luc," she said quickly before he could speak. "The anger was well deserved; I could accept that and deal with it. But I saw the... the disappointment in your eyes. I knew I had failed you personally."
He took her cup, setting it aside with his and pulled her into his arms the way he had wanted to when all this was happening. "Do you know what it takes to scare Will Riker?"
She drew back in surprise at the seeming non-sequitur.
A fingertip lightly traced her cheekbone as he continued. "Will knew that using your position as Chief Medical Officer was out of line, but he said he had never seen anything like the look in your eyes while you were trying to dig that woman out. That's why he came back to the ship - he knew he couldn't reach you. He didn't say so, but I'm not sure he believed I could get through to you either."
"He was right, wasn't he?" she mumbled as she ducked her head into his shoulder. "I made you put yourself in danger because I wouldn't listen to you."
"The Amians didn't want you down there either, risking your life for people beyond help. Believe it or not, I do understand why you feel so deeply for people in situations like that, but you let it cloud your judgment. You put yourself at risk unnecessarily, forgetting there are people who care about you."
A gentle hand raised her chin and soft hazel eyes looked into her sapphire ones. "I can't live without you, Beverly, and when disasters like that happen, I quite selfishly hope that I will be reason enough for you not to risk your life when it serves no purpose."
"You are far more than I deserve, but you're right, I don't think clearly at times like that."
"Then let me help you." He kissed her tenderly, and she felt her soul turn toward his warmth the way a flower reaches for the sun.
In the morning, he would tell her that he had not sent in her resignation, that she was still CMO if she wanted it. If she didn't... then they would decide together where their future lay.
Tonight, the only important thing was that she knew he loved her no matter what.
Still falls the rain -
Dark as the world of man,
black as our loss -
Dame Edith Stillwell