She didn't want to wake up.

Consciousness returned in pieces. She was deliciously warm, limbs heavy with lethargy. Her shoulder ached slightly... she remembered the glancing blow of the phaser catching her.

The heat emanated at her back, conforming along her hips, downward behind her legs. A large hand was spread softly against her abdomen, forming her to the shape behind her.

She smiled. Then she concentrated on keeping her breathing light and even, lest she wake her personal furnace.

For his part, Jean-Luc was already awake. He had not moved, for fear of scaring her off. She had walked away from him before. This time, he would not let that happen.

Why had he not seen what had been eminently clear to aliens they had only met just the day before? His weakness, the chink in his armor, the leverage that could bring him to his knees...

Their mission to Omnia VI had been fairly straightforward. The planet had recently come to the attention of the Jem'Hadar, and the two main factions on the planet now had to come together in order to fight the new threat. The Federation would only help a unified force. A treaty had been started, it was up to the Captain to mediate the last few sticking points.

The Omnians were a proud people, with a long history of isolation and war, partially fueled by ancient geographical divides. While humanoid, they were closer to the Jem'Hadar than any other humanoid species. Thick scales protected them; three long curved fingers and a slender opposing appendage ended in strong, razor sharp talons. An oval shaped skull came to a spiny ridge on top, which extended down the front of the face where a human's nose would be. Tiny breathing holes opened to either side, just above the mouth, which had beak-like upper and lower projections, and a purplish-black tongue.

Eyes were large, with vertical elliptical pupils, surrounded by irises of brilliant shades of yellow, green, blue or purple. An extra eyelid of translucent blue protected them from the harsh glare of full daylight. The slow, graceful blink rate of their exterior eyelids gave them an aura of elegance and thoughtfulness, especially when the blink was a deliberate gesture.

Where the Jem'Hadar made one think of dinosaurs or the ancient rhinoceros of Earth, the Omnians made one think of dragons. Their scales were iridescent, changing from brilliant green to peacock blue, to a rich violet, even glimmering to gold depending on the time of day and the light from the two suns or three moons gracing the planet's lavender skies.

While Omnia possessed advanced technology, much of the rural areas of the planet still had a decidedly primordial feel. Lush vegetation and wildly colourful flowers took over every square inch of space outside of the cities. You could be steps from a population center, and be surrounded by foliage and fruit and feel like you were miles from contact with another sentient being.

The Ominans had agreed readily to allow Doctor Crusher to beam down in order to survey and sample the teeming plant life. Beverly was delighted with the diversion-a busman's holiday for her.

The small away team had beamed down in early morning Omnia time. The Captain had a full security detail of four, ostensibly for the threat of Jem'Hadar, but the history between the two factions on the planet was protracted and bloody. The majority of both sides were coming together in agreement, seeing the benefit for everyone, but well equipped, small cabals of dissent were clearly active.

Data would accompany Beverly. They had come to a fragile truce on the point of security for her. She felt that having her own security would simply draw more attention to herself. He felt the planet's history obliged such precaution. They had argued over yesterday's breakfast, a rare occasion of raised voices.

When she had stood to stalk out of his quarters in all of her redhead fury, throwing her napkin down, he blurted out the one confession guaranteed to assuage her anger. "I could not live with myself if something happened to you down there."

The words had been torn from him, his voice gravelly. She sat down on the chair, the air deflated out of her, blue eyes captured by his mossy green. The petulant part of her temper-not used to being so easily doused-wondered if it were anyone else if he would be so adamant.

Then she grasped just *exactly* what he had said.

She could tell he regretted it already. Regretted telling a secret out of turn. Regretted letting his facade of indifference slip. She would not. She had hurt him deeply after Kes-Prytt, though it had not been her intention. It had taken months to overcome.

Breakfast had only become an unspoken daily appointment again just a few weeks ago.

"I'm sorry." She said, softly. With anyone else on the crew there would not even have been an argument, it would simply have been an order. "I did not realize quite the importance of the matter to you." She still did not break contact with his gaze.

He clenched his jaw, no use closing the barn doors now, the horse was well away... "Perhaps having Mr. Data accompany you would be a sufficient compromise?" There was steel underneath the silky suggestion.

"Ever the diplomat, Jean-Luc." Her eyes softened, her heart softened, this was why she loved the man. "I would welcome Mr. Data's company." And she did love him. For all the times she had screwed up, the times she had tried to fill the void inside of her with someone else, finding the empty spot still remained, somewhere beneath her heart... his awkward admission revealed to her she still had a chance.

This time she had to get it right.

They parted with a different kind of tension in the air.

The Captain was distracted. He sat in his ready room, reviewing the treaty as it stood so far. When he read the same paragraph for the fourth time in a row, and still did not retain any meaning from it, he placed the padd down with a sigh. He stood and paced to the viewport. The planet glowed below them, hues of purple and teal washed with white clouds.

Where to go from here. He was tired of waiting, and yet, his attempts to assuage his need had been spectacularly unsuccessful. While at the time he did mean what he told Nella Darren about conflict of interest, he had also become acutely aware of her resemblance to a certain other redhead. Physically. But the exterior is where the resemblance ended. She was brilliant in her field, but had none of the caring and compassion Beverly had. Her drive for self-promotion was diametrically opposed to Beverly's innate selflessness.

And he did mean it when he said he would have trouble sending her on dangerous missions-because his mind fought his heart *every time* Beverly went on a risky away team...

With a sigh, he ruthlessly pushed the circular argument to the back of his consciousness. He would not regret what he had said this morning, he would leave the ball in her court.

Thus resolved, he returned to the treaty.