by ardavenport

- - - Part 3

His head cleared immediately. He curled his body around like a snake, low to the ground, to Beverly Crusher. He shook her and she stirred and groaned, but not coherently enough. He got his arm around her and dragged her with him.

He couldn't tell where the voices were coming from, so he moved perpendicular to the crossfire overhead. He wouldn't be any closer to friends, but he wouldn't be any closer to foes, either.

Something was pulling on Beverly Crusher's hair. It was caught under her shoulder as it dragged across the floor. She moved and found herself squashed to another body, her face pressed against the red and black fabric of a Starfleet uniform. She grabbed at the arm around her and her body fell, her legs dropping and colliding with the stairs that they descended into noise and acrid smoke. The sharp pain of a shin bone colliding hitting the hard surfaces cleared her thoughts amazingly fast.

She got her arms around Jean-Luc Picard's middle. Her feet tried to find the floor under her and he stumbled. He pulled her upright, untangling them both and she saw a flash of energy fire very close behind them. The floor was hard and cold. One of his large hands covered her head, pushing her into his shoulder and they dove forward and down into shadows.

Her arms and legs still tingled and a spot in the middle of her back burned and itched horribly, but her thoughts cleared quickly, adrenalin pushing the fog from her mind. The pain from her shin crested and then receded. She stayed close to Picard's body, barely able to see in the gloom. Her eyes weren't adjusting to the dim. Dizziness, numbness in the extremities, possible shock? She ran through the symptoms she felt. It was worse than a stun, possibly cell damage, but not fatal, since she was able to think and move on her own . . . somewhat.

His arms tightened around her and he dragged her with him again to better cover. She tried to scrabble along with him. They settled behind a large, cold, bumpy crate. Crusher could at least see the energy flashes overhead. The battle seemed to be following them.

Picard kept shifting position, his whole body tense and squirming around while still holding her. What the hell did he expect to do? They weren't armed. She tugged on him.

"Jean-Luc . . . " A close shot exploded very near to them and he dodged the debris with her.

"Dammit, I can't tell which side is which," he complained.

"I thought I heard Worf," Crusher said of the voices echoing in the battle.

"I did, too." They both flinched away from another near miss. "But I can't tell which side he's on."

"Hopefully our side," Crusher commented to his shoulder. She could just barely see the line between his neck and uniform.

"And which side is that, Doctor?" he asked sarcastically. "I don't suppose you'd be kind enough to explain what we're doing here, and who's shooting at us?"

More flashes flit by overhead and around their dark little haven among the tall boxes and crates, light as fleeting as their safety. They heard a bellow of rage. Definitely Worf.

"We were trying to get you away from the Lutii. They put up a shield so we couldn't beam you out. The only thing they'd agree to was to let me stay with you." She leaned on him, feeling flushed. Was all the energy fire heating up the air?

"You might have told me this two days ago. What's the point in not telling me? Were they watching us?"

"Yes." She closed her eyes. She couldn't see much in the dark anyway. It was getting hotter. A film of sweat covered her face, and he smelled of it and the smoke. "But they said it was too dangerous for you to remember the attack, that it could kill you."


"They said that a telepathic assassin had killed Yaido and would have left a residual sub-entity in your mind. They called it a 'suhlzhat'. That's what I was looking for."

Brow furrowed, Picard stared into the darkness and increasing smoke around them. He didn't know very much about scanning for independent, telepathic life signs, but he did know a few things.

"You can't detect a telepathic trace like that with a medical scanner. None of our scanners can. That's why you can't shield against *them." He got no answer. A spurt of phaser fire exploded several meters away, close enough to make them both cringe away from it. "Did Troi sense anything?"

"No, but the Lutii didn't let her stay with you. And she's not exactly a strong telepath." No further explanation came.

"So you took their story and volunteered to stay with me and tried scanning for it on your own?" Crusher nodded her head. She wasn't sure he could see it, but she didn't feel like admitting the failure. His response came back with the expected derision. "I had no idea you were so naive, or so vain about your abilities."

Crusher clamped her teeth shut over her response. Another near miss forced her to duck, pressing her nose to his ribcage so closely that she could smell his skin underneath. Neither of them had had a bath in over two days. Have you noticed how close we are right now, Jean-Luc? Or that either of us might die at any moment?

She hadn't believed the Lutii's flimsy excuse about the 'suhlzhat' anymore than Riker had, but they'd needed to keep the Lutii talking and going along with them was the only way to do it. She'd felt guilty enough about stalling him and playing the pawn for the Lutii while Riker came up with a better way to get him off the planet, but now he was criticizing her about it? She didn't trust herself to say anything civil back to him. And her head was aching. The smell of burning plastic and metal around them was making her nauseous. The burn on her back was cooking nicely and the tingling in her arms and legs was so bad that her fingers and toes felt like solid lumps. Even so, the floor against her feet was so cold that she felt like it was sucking the heat out of her body.

Crusher looked down and moved her feet against the hard floor.

"What the hell happened to my boots?"

This time, he didn't answer her.

Something really big blew up.

For a moment, the only thing in the room was the explosion, huge and bright orange. The light quickly died, but the boom stayed and went all the way inside her head. Covering her ears would have been a futile gesture, if she'd been able to manage it. A patter of small objects fell around them. His arms around her, his shoulder under her were the only things that weren't consumed by the thunderous sound.

She couldn't even tell when it really ended, her ears were ringing so badly. Then a whine and a new disorientation took over . . .

-o*o- -o*o- -o*o- -o*o-

She curled herself around Picard. He was the most solid thing in the new confusion around her, and she hung on tightly before the darkness dissolved around them. Damn transporter, she thought.

She felt weak, dizzy, alternating hot and cold and burning pains in her joints and over her whole back. The swirling unreality of transport left them on a floor in too much light. She squinted and her eyes teared up immediately from the bright, but familiar bluish-gray surroundings.

Hands on her, lifting her up, she felt them pulling her away from Picard. She clutched at him, managed to snag a sleeve, a hand and it firmly held hers, a feeling more real and solid than the jumble around her.

The pains and dizziness vanished into a pleasantly numb feeling. Sickbay, she had to be back in Sickbay. It felt right, smelled right, the tones of the voices around her sounded right. She lay on her stomach, her arms under her head. But she hadn't let go of the hand. She felt cool air on her exposed skin as someone cut away the back of her uniform. She could hear her own breathing, and the little whirs and muted beeps of the medical monitors. She wondered who was doing the procedure. Probably Selar, she decided.

The hand in hers started to slip away and that jolted her out of her doze. She grasped for the hand. She thought she made some kind of noise. You're not getting away from me now, Jean-Luc. I want you here when they're done working on me. If I have to admit what a screw-up this whole mission has been, I want to get it over with. The firm grip on her hand returned and she suddenly realized that she wasn't understanding the words of the voices around her. Damn, it's worse than I though. She had a sense of panic, muted by the medication she'd been given and suddenly felt glad of the hand she still hung on to.

Picard looked down at where his hand covered Beverly Crusher's. It seemed so small and delicate under his. Doctor Selar finished treating the burn on her back, the red mark now completely gone. Selar cut away and removed the rest of her uniform. He had to let go of her hand then. Feeling foolish, he averted his eyes while they slipped on a pair of blue, Sickbay pajamas, covered her and turned her over onto her back. He knew that Beverly Crusher would have enjoyed seeing him blush; she wouldn't care at all what he saw. Medical people were so clinical and cold blooded about personal privacy.

But Crusher didn't like the activity. She squirmed fitfully in their grasp.

"It's okay, it's all right," Nurse Ogawa comforted her, stroking her forehead. Doctor Selar, her hand lightly resting on Crusher's stomach waited until her colleague had settled down before scanning her vital signs. Other than the burn, Crusher had nothing worse than a severe stun for which Selar recommended rest.

Commander Riker, Counselor Troi and two Lutii entered Sickbay and came to Picard.

"Captain?" Riker nodded toward him and Crusher.

Picard greeted his first officer and Counselor Troi and assured them that he and Crusher were fine (Doctor Hill had scanned him while he stood by Crusher as she was treated and had pronounced him mostly fit). Selar frowned at the newcomers and then looked down at her patient. She raised an eyebrow, perhaps the Vulcan equivalent of a shrug, and she and Ogawa retreated.

Riker introduced the Lutii as Haskai and Losaite.

"I know you." Picard raised his hand to Haskai. Haskai nodded toward him.

"I am grateful to see that Yaido and Haichorin did you no harm." Both Haskai and Losaite offered their apologies for the whole incident. Picard moved the group away from Crusher, so as not to disturb her, but they stayed in Sickbay. He would accept their apology, but be wanted the reminder that they had done harm.

"Telepaths are uncommon among us," Losaite explained. "We did know that Yaido was telepath, and they do have a talent for . . . convincing others to their views. But we had no thought that she would try to use it against you. It was folly. There are no records of any Lutii telepath attempting such with a Human such as yourself. This was not sanctioned by the Councils of Lutis," Losaite assured for what Picard thought was the third time. Obviously they thought that repetition would add value to their contrition. Both Losaite and Haskai's vertical eye slits were open very wide, an expression of sincerity, Picard assumed. The metal jewelry adornments hanging from Losaite's shoulders jingled slightly as Losaite clasped and unclasped his hands. Uncharitably, Picard kept thinking that at any moment they would add, "And now that we're sorry about it, if you'd like to reconsider our trade application to the Federation . . . " But to their credit, they didn't.

"No permanent harm was done," Picard acknowledged politely. "Of course a more detailed explanation of your side in this incident would help considerably in any misunderstandings that might have developed here." He wanted nothing more than to get away from their planet, as soon as possible, but he would fulfil his duty first.

"Doctor Haskai here has been very helpful in that respect," Counselor Troi told him and he had the impression that she was speaking up for Haskai . . .

-o*o- -o*o- -o*o- -o*o-

" . . . thank you for your help on my behalf, Doctor Haskai. I appreciate your . . . " The voices around Beverly Crusher were finally making sense, or perhaps her ability to concentrate on them had simply returned. Picard was speaking, his voice carrying from the other side of the room.

Haskai . . . He was the Lutii doctor who'd refused to treat the captain on the planet because he'd never cared for a Human. It was his adamancy that had forced the other Lutii to deal with Commander Riker, and to agree to let her be the one to determine the cause of Yaido's death. In strict quarantine, of course, but watched and unable to communicate any of their agreement to Picard. Haskai had even made the claim that if a 'suhlzhat' were endangering the captain then it would show itself or expire on its own in at most three days. No one had said anything at the time, but it had been clear that the other Lutii were not comfortable with this time limit on how long they could quarantine Picard. Unfortunately, Jean-Luc Picard had had his own time schedule.

" . . . it was the shock that killed Yaido. Haichorin has confirmed this from his attempt on your mind. You of Starfleet are very, very different; you have traveled far, experienced much. We are . . . quite provincial, especially . . . "

Crusher continued to listen, but her attention wandered. She still felt a bit numb from the stun and the drugs. Probably dalcharin and geratazine for the burn and the shock. She wouldn't be moving very quickly for the next few hours, not that she wanted to. But it wasn't anything that she would need to stay in Sickbay for. And she couldn't stand lying there while her staff, all around her, was busy . . .

'Uh?" She started awake, grasping for something. A hand squeezed hers. Jean-Luc Picard stood over her bed.

"Sorry to wake you."

"Oh, I wasn't asleep," she mumbled back. Riker, Troi and the Lutii had gone and she didn't remember them leaving. She felt pleasantly surprised that he was actually there. She would have expected Captain Picard to go straight up to his bridge and order his ship to its next mission. But apparently he'd let his first officer do it this time.

Feeling more awake, Crusher took a few deep breaths and started to rise.

"Beverly, I don't think you should be getting up." His hands embraced her shoulders, but he didn't stop her. At least he had the sense not to, considering how many time he checked himself out of Sickbay as soon as possible. Crusher closed her eyes, a wave of dizziness making her pause. It quickly passed. Picard stood close to her, his arm supporting her back. "Doctor Selar said you needed to rest."

"Well, I don't need to rest here." She carefully slid off the biobed, Picard still keeping close. Selar and Ogawa appeared.

"Doctor Crusher, it is not necessary for you to get up so soon after your injury."

"It isn't necessary for me stay here, either. Is it." It wasn't a question. She could see in Selar's impassive face that she was right. Selar subscribed to the a rigid code of absolute honesty of Vulcan healers. "No, you are not required to stay here. But you are required to rest for at least the next ten hours. And report back here for a physical examination."

"Fine. I'll rest in my quarters." Selar still stood in her way for a moment, as if evaluating a diagnosis. Then she silently nodded and turned to Ogawa, intending for the nurse to accompany the chief medical officer.

"I'll escort you, Doctor." Selar turned back to see Captain Picard, his arm around Crusher's waist, leading her out of Sickbay. It was logical; Picard and Crusher were quite familiar with each other, and the captain was current in basic Starfleet first-aid training.

Selar raised an eyebrow in puzzlement. Ogawa was grinning.

-o*o- -o*o- -o*o- -o*o-

Picard caught himself tensing again as they passed another crew member in the corridor. He stubbornly decided to ignore any looks he got. Crusher wasn't leaning on him much for support, but they walked together. She stayed close.

His own belief that the captain should never allow the distraction of a personal life to show in front of the crew, seemed a bit petty to him if it meant just walking away from Beverly Crusher now. They entered the turbolift together. She spoke, sending the turbolift on its way.

She looked very tired to him. And her red hair was a mess. The lift stopped and they exited while two ensigns stood aside before getting on. More looks, Picard noted. He didn't look back.

They entered her quarters together. He loosened his hold on her.

"Will you be all right?" he asked. It felt odd that he should just leave her now. There was something missing, but he didn't know what. "Beverly?" he asked when she didn't answer. Crusher felt his touch on her shoulder.

"Beverly?" he asked again, his eyes full of concern.

"I'm sorry. Yes, I'll-I'm fine. I just need to get some rest." He kept looking at her carefully, his brows lowered. And then his expression lightened and he half smiled.

"Well, then. Good night Doctor." He turned to leave.

"Jean-Luc." Instantly, he turned back to her. "Um." She stood there gathering her thoughts. "I just wanted to say that I'm sorry for the way I treated you on Lutis. I knew you were frustrated. I-I couldn't say anything." He smiled back at her.

"It's all right. You had good reasons. I might have even done the same thing, if our positions had been reversed."

"Would you?" she asked softly.

His smile changed character. "Yes," he answered, nodding.

She sighed. Yes, he would. We both would; put duty before love. How romantic. She let her head drop, feeling the fatigue again.

"Hey, you need to lie down." He took her arm and led her to the bedroom. She let him lead her and sit her on bed. He sat down next to her and he ordered the computer to lower the lights.

She'd had little else to do for almost two days on Lutis but think about him. When he lay unconscious and she didn't know what or if anything was wrong with him and what the hell Riker was doing to rescue them, she had sat next to him, touched his brow, the smooth top of his head, and wondered. He loved her; she knew that. She'd known it for months, but she'd had been holding it at arm's length for fear of where it might lead. On Lutis, she'd kept thinking about the things they hadn't said to each other.

Of course she couldn't think of any of those things now that she was sitting next to him, alone in her quarters, safe on the Enterprise. Stay, she thought. I could use a friend to lie with tonight. Not a lover that you might toss away after a week if you get in too deep. Just a friend for now.

"Will you be all right?" he asked her again. She felt his hand touch her back, his arm around her. She nodded.

"Yeah." Then she put her arm around his waist and laid her head on his shoulder. "You're not going to tuck me in, are you, Captain?" she asked relaxing next to him. There aren't any phaser blasts to distract yourself with now, Captain.

He nudged closer to her. She felt his warm breath on the top of her head, the tip of his nose on her hair.

"If it's needed, Doctor," he answered her. "If it's needed."

## %% ## %% END %% ## %% ##

Note: This story was written by me and first printed (under the name 'Anne Davenport') in 1996, in Beyond Farpoint 6, a fanzine back in the hard-copy and snail-mail days of fan-fiction, when the internet was starting to take off.

Disclaimer: All Trek characters and the universe belong to Paramount; I'm just playing in that sandbox.