"Captain, have you been to sickbay yet?"

Deanna Troi had an annoying resemblance to a terrier sometimes. He had hoped she would let it go by now, have forgotten among the other details. She hadn't.

The Romulan Warbird had disappeared along with the time-anomaly. The Romulans aboard the Enterprise had simply vanished along with their ship and the alien energy beings. The crew of the Enterprise remembered the whole incident up until engaging the energy transfer to the Warbird. The rest belonged only to the four who had been off ship.

Doctor Crusher had told him that Geordi was fine, and would be cleared for duty the next morning. Her voice over the comm system had simultaneously soothed him and caused his heart to race.

Deanna looked at her Captain. He was doing his best to block her. He had raised that wall when she told him Beverly was at the end of a disruptor beam, at point blank range. Now the only feeling she could discern was shame. It didn't make sense, but then emotions often defied logic. She went over and over the events of the past few hours and could not understand what he would feel ashamed of.

A sigh escaped the Captain and he rubbed a tired hand over his scalp. "All right, Counselor, you win. I think we're all finished here anyway." He straightened his jacket with a tug. "Mr. Data, you have the bridge."

Feeling the Counselor's eyes on him, he exited the bridge. He normally did not indulge in procrastination, but as the lift proceeded to Deck Five, he acknowledged that was exactly what he had been doing.

She would have no idea why he was avoiding her.

Sickbay, when he entered, looked the same as always. Somehow he had expected scorch marks.

She was across the room, busy with a crewmember. He watched her for a moment, relief settling low in his gut. Sensing his regard, she looked up and met his gaze. A smile and a tilt of her head and he moved toward the private treatment room.

He had only just sat sideways on the biobed when she knocked on the open doorway. "Deanna said she would dog you until you came by." Her lips raised in a slight grin.

Jean-Luc winced at his earlier comparison of the Counselor, then chuckled to himself at the coincidence of sharing the same imagery with Beverly. They often thought alike...

"Doctor," he said, sticking to their professional titles, "I am fine. This is a waste of both of our time."

"That's *my* decision to make, not yours, Captain." she responded in kind, emphasizing his title, reminding him she could actually outrank him if needed. "Deanna said there was some sort of issue with the forcefield Geordi rigged up. I just want to make sure there is no damage."

She was close now, running the tricorder probe over him. He could smell her shampoo, the light scent she wore that lingered in his imagination for hours. Her head bowed, just below the level of his eyes as she read the tricorder. He had to clench his fist to stop from reaching to push a strand of hair off her face.

"Can you describe what happened?" She asked, noting his readings showed elevated stress levels.

"Not really." He nodded. "Actually... it was a little bit like when I had the mind meld with Sarek." He broke off. She just waited, giving him the time he needed. After a long pause he continued. "Strong emotions which did not make sense, that I had no control over... "

Her features softened, he had been avoiding her gaze. She waited for him to look at her. Finally he glanced up. Clouded hazel eyes met clear blue. "You hate that more than anything." She said softly.

He did not reply, simply held her gaze. She understood his weakness. She was his weakness.

Pulling herself out of the depths of his soul she seemed to have faded into, she raised the probe from the tricorder to his head, breaking their stare. "Any pain?"

He knew she would know if he lied. "Ah... a bit of a headache," he admitted. "But I think it's from the whole idea of 'time anomalies', rather than any physical problem."

"You drive the ship, I'll decide why your head hurts." Her smile was teasing. "Although it does appear your self-diagnosis may be correct, you my Captain, have a stress headache."

She reached for a hypospray. With a cool hiss to the side of his neck, the annoying dull ache receded. It was only in it's absence he realized how strong it had actually been. Normally he would have sought her out hours ago for relief.

She watched the furrows in his brow soften, the pinch beside his eyes relax. "Don't move." She instructed him. Breezing out, she returned promptly, surreptitiously engaging the privacy lock. She carried a silver metal bottle in her hand.

"If we don't get to the root of your headache, the pain will be back just as soon as the analgesic wears off." She answered his questioning look. "Jacket off."

Raising an eyebrow, he wordlessly complied, leaving him in just his grey tank top. She had him turn, raising one bent leg onto the bed, to face the foot of it. She poured a small amount of lotion into her hands, letting it warm.

It took all of his willpower not to jump at her touch when her hands found the back of his neck. The smell of mint, menthol and eucalyptus rose as she began to work on his neck and shoulders. Warmth spread from the lotion, from her hands. Her fingers and thumbs worked magic on the sore, tight muscles.

Her touch spread heat much lower and deeper. He closed his eyes and let his head drop forward. He allowed himself to acknowledge the inarticulate terror he had felt when Deanna told him she could not see how Beverly could survive if time resumed...

She was his best friend. She was his best friend's widow. She was his touchstone, his stability, the anchor line keeping him to his better self.

He had ordered Deanna back to sickbay when they implemented the plan to fix the anomaly. He felt shame rising again. He could not bring himself to face the sight of her being torn apart by a disruptor; could not trust himself to act and react appropriately. So he had sent Deanna back to sickbay.

"Hey." Beverly said quietly, her warm breath feathering his neck. She had settled behind him on the biobed, he could feel the warmth of her body, just inches away from his back. "You're supposed to relax."

She removed her hands momentarily, then they returned, slightly cooler, and slippery with the pungent lotion. Her thumbs worked the back of his scalp at the top of his neck. He could not suppress a groan at the pain-pleasure when she found the pressure points.

As she felt the fascia release, she moved, point by point. Her hands slid under the straps of the tank top, sliding over hard muscle. Her hands were hot as she worked. She closed her eyes, for a moment indulging in the fantasy that this was not in sickbay, but rather in his quarters, or hers...

He felt the change in her touch. He had already been having trouble when she was finding and releasing muscle knots. Now her fingers had softened, her thumbs traced idle patterns under his shirt, just above his shoulder blades.

He turned on the biobed to face her. Her hands dropped quickly, guiltily to her lap. A flush rose from the collar of her uniform, to grace her cheeks with endearing pink.

"Beverly, I..." He could not stop himself this time, his hand raised, his fingers brushed the hair off her cheek, tucking it behind her ear. "I should have been here."

Her embarrassment fled in the face of confusion. "What?" His face was full of sorrow, anguish.

"I couldn't... I sent Deanna... " His normally whiskey smooth voice broke.

Something deep in her constricted, paradoxically also fluttering. He had known. Of course Deanna had told him. She was dying in the moment time stopped. She vividly remembered the searing heat, the explosive punch of the disruptor hitting her. Her thoughts fractured like a kaleidoscope: it didn't hurt as much as she thought it would... Wesley would be alone... She never told Jean-Luc...

She had spoken of some of it to Deanna. She thought it was probably worse for Deanna-finding her friend on the edge of certain death-she remembered everything, but it was more like a vivid dream. She had danced around her feelings, sharing only the sense of 'things left unsaid,' then proceeding to tell Deanna how much she valued her friendship, how she loved her like family.

As for the Captain... She understood how his mind worked.

"Jean-Luc, you did what you had to do. I'm fine, we're ALL fine because you did your job. Her hand reached for his chest; rested, fingers flat against his beating heart.

"But I should have been here... " His eyes were dark, dark green, just hints of gold and brown at the inner edge of the iris. Torment filled his features.

"Jean-Luc..." She shook her head helplessly, it was almost impossible to talk him out of his guilt at times. Especially his misplaced guilt. "Where were you?"

"At the science station on the bridge..." he admitted, guilt clouding his face.

"And where was Data?" She asked, her eyebrow rising, just a hint of a smile lifting her lips.

Angry at her levity, he snapped, "At the warp core."

She pounced. She loved it when logic prevailed. "And could Deanna have been at the warp core?"

He made a cross, quick negative move of his chin.

"And could Deanna have done what needed to be done on the bridge?"

He started to respond with an agitated "No-" but cut himself off. She watched the realization cross his face like a dawning sun.

Her hand raised to his jawline, caressing him. The soothing scent of the lotion lightly teased his nostrils. "You were where you needed to be. Data was where he needed to be. That left Deanna, and she did just fine."

He was not quite ready to let it go, not after gnawing on it for hours. "But..."

Her fingers moved to cover his lips, to shush him. "Jean-Luc," her voice was indulgent, the tone she used with recalcitrant patients. "Whether or not you wanted to be here is irrelevant. You couldn't be here. Let it go."

He stared at her in astonishment. He read the double meaning in her words, did she know? Could she know?

And in an instant of clarity it came to him. Of course she knew. Humility washed over him. Every time he was injured, he came here, to her sickbay. She never wanted to see him hurt.

He remembered her emotional overload when his artificial heart had been damaged by the energy discharge, but then inexplicably started again. Privately, later, she had tearily confessed to him that her greatest fear was the day that she could not fix him...

She understood. She fought the battle of wanting to be the one to treat him against never wanting to be the one to call his death every time he ended up here.
A weight lifted off his shoulders. She was right, regardless of the inner battle, he could not have made another decision.

Something shifted beneath his heart. Would he ever understand just how remarkable this woman was? He captured her own hand in his, pressing a kiss to the fingers that still rested on his lips.

Her cheeks pinked again with blush, her pupils widened slightly. "Thank you." He whispered, bringing her hand down to rest against his chest. He leaned forward, closing the spare distance between them.

She watched him draw near, her heart thudding almost painfully against her breastbone. Her eyes fluttered closed as he tilted his head and touched his lips to hers.

It was a brief kiss. An instant of electric contact, over almost before it began. She opened her eyes to find him still hovering, millimeters from her face, contemplating...

"We... um... " was that her voice? Breathy and flustered and needy? "Not here..." She groaned helplessly.

"No..." he agreed, reluctantly. He drew back, still trapping her hand above his heart. "You're right." His eyes crinkled with the smile that lifted his lips. Before she could find her will to move, he ducked and touched his lips to hers again.

Then he stood and reached for his jacket.

She stood as well, hastily reached for the bottle of lotion, desperate to keep her hands busy. This was what she wanted, had wanted for a long time now, why was it suddenly awkward?

He zipped his jacket up. "So, am I cleared for duty?" He was serious, back to business, but for the small edges of a smile.

She had to clear her throat. "Yes. You seem to be just fine." Colour rose from her collar as she heard the unintended double entendre.

"We will continue our... conversation... " he said, a soft smile belying the intensity in his eyes, "at a more appropriate time and place."

"I'll hold you to that, Captain." There was fire in her eyes when she replied. She watched him straighten his jacket with a tug, then with a last, long look at her she couldn't quite interpret, walk out the door.

Softly she whispered as she watched him go, "I'll hold you to it."