"Captain, you should go get some rest." Dr Selar said in her matter of fact Vulcan way. "I will alert you of any change in Dr Crusher's condition."
"Thank you, Doctor." Picard replied. "I prefer to remain here."
Selar nodded and completed her scans in silence, not looking up from her PADD.
When she had left the room, he took Beverly Crusher's hand in his and gently stroked it with his thumb. In the few months since their mission to Kesspryt, Jean Luc had honored Beverly's wishes and had not pushed toward a romantic relationship, in spite of the fact that he thought about it every moment of every day. He regretted his decision each night when he went to bed without her next to him, but he had never regretted it as much as he did at this moment. The love of his life was lying in a hospital bed, fighting for her life and he had never even kissed her properly. He bent forward and pressed his lips to her forehead, lingering there until he heard the door slide open.
"Have you slept?" Deanna Troi asked in a voice full of quiet concern.
Jean Luc shook his head, allowing her to see just how exhausted he was. "I can't."
She walked up next to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Captain…"
"I need to be here when she regains consciousness."
Troi nodded, feeling the intensity of his emotions. "Of course." She replied softly. "May I sit with you for a while?"
Picard nodded and Troi pulled a chair up next to his. They spoke for some time, then sat in silence, each hoping to see some sign that Beverly was recovering.
"This should never have happened."
"Captain, everyone followed procedure to the letter. We were deceived. There is no blame to be assigned here. She was doing her job, just as you were doing yours."
Picard looked unconvinced. "I should have seen it."
"This was obviously a well planned attack. The Federation and the Enterprise were carefully lured to this planet."
Picard did not answer.
"If you refrained from sending teams every time they could be walking into a trap, we would rarely accomplish anything." She looked at her captain's hand, clutching Beverly's tenderly. "If you had kept her from participating in the relief mission, she would have been furious."
Jean Luc laughed softly. "She would have stopped speaking to me."
Troi laughed as well, nodding.
They sat in silence for several minutes before he asked, "Can you sense her? Is she in pain?"
"I sense her." Troi replied, looking at Beverly. "I don't get the impression of pain, but her emotions are… muddy." Jean Luc looked at her with concern. "She is peaceful." She reassured. "When the mind has experienced great trauma, it is not unusual for the emotions to… retreat for some time. It is a protection mechanism."
"Any you believe that is what is has happened to her?"
"It is a likely possibility."
Beverly Crusher struggled to open her eyes, feeling as though her head was being compressed within an energy field. She eventually managed to open them slightly, the dim light of the room making her eyes burn. When she tried to move, every muscle in her body seemed to scream in protest. She moaned softly, making her hands into fists. She wasn't entirely sure where she was until she felt a hand on her cheek and heard Jean Luc Picard's voice in her ear.
"Welcome back, Beverly." He whispered, pressing a kiss against her forehead.
"Jean Luc…" She said in a weak voice. She winced as she tried to smile at him. "Am I in sickbay?"
He stroked her hair softly and nodded.
He started to speak, but his voice failed him. He cleared his throat and tried to hide the emotion in his voice. "Only you." Their eyes met for a long moment. "Beverly…"
They were interrupted by Dr Selar entering the room. "It is good to see you awake, Doctor." She said as she began her medical scans.
Jean Luc sat silently until the doctor had finished her exam and the two doctors discussed Beverly's condition. He was relieved to see Beverly speaking so clear headedly, but noticed how painful she seemed. When Selar had gone, her slid his chair closer to her and leaned in close.
"Why didn't you tell her how much pain you are in?" He asked, taking her hand.
"I am on some pretty powerful pain medication. I don't want to risk anything stronger." She looked into his stormy hazel eyes and noticed the redness rimming them. "When is the last time you slept?"
"My priorities have been elsewhere." He said softly as he squeezed her hand gently, feeling her respond as best she could.
"Promise me you'll go get some rest. I can't very well order you in my condition, but I can ask you as a friend."
He considered her for a moment before answering. "Selar has assured me that you are out of immediate danger, so I will go, as long as you understand something." He leaned over and touched her cheek. "I want to know that you understand why I have been here at your bedside." His eyes burned into hers. "I am your captain, but it had nothing to do with duty." He hissed her hand. "You are my best friend… but it had very little to do with friendship." He kissed her forehead. "I have been here because I have loved you for twenty years and I don't think I could go on if I lost you." He whispered.
Beverly stared into his eyes for a moment and whispered, "Jean Luc…"
He quieted her with a gentle kiss; not the first they had ever shared, but certainly the most meaningful. "We'll continue this conversation when we are both rested. Is that alright?"
Jean Luc smiled and kissed her again, encouraged when he felt her lips respond.
"I hope I didn't wake you." Deanna said from the doorway. She was all smiles as she walked to her friend's bedside. "The Captain told me that you were awake." She took her hand. "I had to see for myself."
"What's wrong?" Deanna asked, already knowing the answer.
"Jean Luc told me he loves me."
"Surely that can't be a surprise."
"Beverly, I can sense what you feel. Are you going to try and pretend with me?"
Beverly thought for a moment and shook her head. "I'm afraid."
She couldn't come up with anything specific.
"Beverly, the two of you have danced around your feelings for as long as I've known you." She sympathetically smiled at her friend. "What is so frightening about trying to be happy? We face the unknown every day and we have all lost people we care about. Wouldn't it be easier to have someone you loved to go home to at night."
"And it would be a lot harder to not have him to come to." Beverly confessed, a tear escaping her eye.
Deanna brushed the tear from her friend's cheek. "Do you honestly think it would be any easier now? Whether you want to admit it or not, Beverly, you love him. He loves you. Enjoy it."
"I just don't think I could go through it again."
"If you could go back in time, knowing what you know now, would you have married Jack?"
"Yes." Beverly replied after thinking for a long time.
"It was worth the pain in the end?"
"Yes." She smiled.
"So how is this different?"
Beverly shook her head and winced with the exertion. "The benefits of being friends with the counselor. All my problems solved in one conversation."
"If only it were that simple." Deanna touched her hair. "You're in pain. I should leave so you can get some rest."
"Thank you, Dee."
Deanna kissed her friend's forehead and left the room.
"Captain, will you please tell Dr Selar that I can rest in my own quarters." Beverly was sitting up in her bed, looking much more like herself. "The treatments have done wonders and all I have is some mild discomfort."
"As well as headaches and dizziness."
"I had a skull fracture, which has been healed. Of course I am going to have a few headaches. I can sleep them off in my own bed just as well as here."
Selar shook her head. "Here we have staff to monitor your condition."
"The Captain can monitor my condition."She looked at Jean Luc.
"Are you sure you are not in any danger?" He asked as he approached her bed.
"When I woke up this morning, I felt much better. All of my broken bones have knitted together. The swelling in my brain has dissipated. I will be back to normal in a week or two."
"Shouldn't that week be spent here?" He touched her hand gently.
"It's not necessary." She squeezed his hand, trying her best to persuade him with her gaze. "Besides," she whispered so Selar wouldn't hear. "We have a lot to talk about."
"Indeed we do." He looked at her for a long moment. "Doctor," He looked at Selar, "If I agree to be personally responsible for her care, will you allow her to be released?"
"It would be against my better judgment."
"But would you allow it?"
She considered him. "Yes."
"You have to promise to be on your best behavior or I will take you right back to sickbay." Picard scolded.
"Yes sir." She smiled at him as he helped her to the bedroom. "I would very much like to take a shower before I get into bed."
Jean Luc hesitated before saying, "If you require assistance, I'll call for Counselor Troi."
Beverly laughed out loud. "I can manage." She limped toward the door. "You'll be here when I am done?"
Beverly looked into his eyes as he spoke and knew that he meant it. "I believe you." She said meaningfully.
"Jean Luc?" Beverly called as she came out of the bathroom.
"I'll be right in." He called from the living room. "Get into bed."
Beverly smiled and climbed painfully under the covers. A moment later, Jean Luc entered the room carrying a mug. "Cinnamon tea?" He asked.
Beverly's head cocked quizzically. "That brings back memories."
"My grandmother used to make it for me when I was sick." She looked at his sly smile. "How did you know that?"
"I mean it, Jean." She said as he sat next to her on the bed and handed her the tea. "I don't remember telling you about the tea."
He smiled at the memory, laying his head back against the headboard. "We were stranded on a planet. I don't remember the name." He looked out the viewport. "Isn't that funny. Anyway, I was sick and being a horrible patient, as usual."
Beverly nodded in agreement.
"You sat with me, keeping me comfortable and trying to bring my fever down. You wiped my forehead with a damp cloth and told me about your grandmother's tea."
"You remember that?"
He nodded, his hazel eyes locked on to her blue ones. Beverly reached out and touched his cheek, pressing her mouth to his. The kiss was soft at first but quickly gained momentum. She rested her head against her pillow, pulling him with her.
"Beverly," he whispered breathlessly against her lips.. "We shouldn't."
"I know." She replied as she kissed him even more passionately. As she wrapped her arms more tightly around him, she gasped with pain. Jean Luc sat up immediately.
"Beverly." He said breathlessly. "You need to rest." He touched her hair. "There will be plenty of time for this when you are healed."
She closed her eyes and nodded.
He kissed her forehead. "I think I should leave you alone. I'll be in the next room."
"Please don't leave. Stay here with me."
He considered her for a long time. The truth was that he wanted to stay as much as she wanted him there. Probably more. He pulled back the blanket, slid off his shoes and climbed into the bed next to Beverly. He had no sooner rested his head back against the pillow before she had snuggled up next to him and rested her head on his chest.
"God, you feel so good." Jean Luc whispered against her hair.
She took a shuddering breath. "So do you." Her cheek was pressed against his chest.
They stayed there, spooned close together whispering and touching sensually, until Beverly could barely keep her eyes open.
"Go to sleep, Darling." He kissed her forehead.
"You'll still be here when I wake up?"
He smiled broadly, remembering not so long ago when she had been too frightened to risk the emotions washing over them now so happily. "I promise you that I will be here every morning, if you'll let me."
Beverly raised her heavily lidded, sleepy eyes to his. "Can I tell you something?"
"Of course." He caressed her fingers with his.
"I have spent so many nights lying in this bed… wishing you were here." She painfully reached up to touch his cheek. "Knowing I had blown my last chance for real happiness."
"Impossible." He kissed her fingers. "I would have offered you as many chances as it took."
"I would hug that pillow like a lovesick teenager and pretend it was you." Her cheeks flushed as she said it. "I can't believe I just told you that."
A smile lit up his face. "I think it just proves how exhausted you really are." He laughed softly.
"Jean, I love you." She said in an intimate whisper.
"And I am now officially the happiest man in the universe." He whispered in return, his lips nearly touching hers, their breath mingling. "Now go to sleep." He kissed her softly and pulled the covers higher on her chest.