"That bitch." The epithet was muttered under the redhead's breath. Beverly Crusher had just come off her second twelve of a double shift, helping to heal the more major casualties of the mass hysteria on the planet below. She stood outside the Captain's quarters. The hour was late, but the computer indicated he was awake and in his quarters.

She pushed the announcer but nothing happened. She tried again. Nothing. Then she tried her override. No reaction. Without hesitation she activated her communicator, "Crusher to security, please report to the Captain's quarters."

After Worf acknowledged she queried the computer again, "Computer, where is the Captain."

"The Captain is in his quarters," came the reply she expected.

"Computer, is he alone?"

"Negative. There is an unidentified humanoid in the Captain's quarters." Her stomach dropped. Ardra.

She did not *mean* to eavesdrop, but the voices were just on the other side of the door. "I can be chaste... " she heard Ardra coaxing. The Captain's voice was muffled, she could not make out his reply.

But Ardra had to be facing the doors. She heard her again, "Or perhaps someone professional, someone in Star Fleet uniform... "

The next voice Beverly heard sounded like Deanna. "Someone close at hand yet unattainable... I can do anything for you Captain, anything you can imagine."

Indignation flashed through the Doctor, along with something hot and full of possessiveness. He'd better not want Deanna. If it was someone in uniform, it better be...

Two security officers arrived, cutting off that train of thought. She could not hear Picard's answer, nor make out the words Ardra said next, yet she could hear the rage.

"She's in there. That... that... THING from the planet. The announcer and door controls are dead." The Lieutenant was already trying his security override, with the same lack of reaction the Doctor had. She stepped aside as he took a pry bar from the other security officer and manually pried the doors.

It may have taken all of ten, fifteen seconds, but when the doors were pushed open enough to wedge their way through, the room was empty.

Beverly followed, unmindful of any danger. The security officers spread out to check the rest of the cabin, but she knew with sinking certainty that the Captain was gone. The Captain and the Devil Herself. "Computer, location of Captain Picard." Beverly's voice shook slightly.

"The Captain is no longer aboard the Enterprise." Panic gripped at her for a moment.

Then she realized the Lieutenant was talking to the bridge. She tried to focus on his words, over the rushing in her ears.

Worf's words over the communicator broke through. "The transporter is jammed somehow, so Mr. Data is heading down with a shuttle to retrieve him."

"Worf, is he all right? Does he need me?" She was calmer now that she knew he was on the planet.

"Doctor, he says he is fine." Worf long observed the extra tension between the Doctor and the Captain. He decided the more honorable choice was to leave out the part about the Captain requesting a uniform.

"I'll meet the shuttle then." Beverly stood, looking around the Captain's quarters. She was still seething at the words she had heard. Eavesdroppers deserve what they hear, she chided herself.

It only took ten minutes or so for the shuttle to land and for Data to retrieve the Captain. Beverly paced in the shuttle bay as she listened to the routine radio traffic. Exhaustion pulled at her. She was going on her thirtieth hour. But something compelled her to meet the shuttle, to see for herself that he was all right.

"Shuttlecraft One to Enterprise, ready for docking sequence." Data's voice over the speaker echoed in the large bay.

"Proceed Shuttlecraft One." The flight deck Commander relayed.

Then chaos erupted.

"Shuttle Craft One. Shuttle Craft One, do you copy?"

Beverly's pulse raced. She tried to pick out coherent radio traffic over the flood of activity which ensued;

"We've lost them, Sir. They're just gone."
"What do you mean gone?"
"Nothing on the sensors-the sensors have gone dark."
"All external communications down..."
"Negative contact with the planet..."
"No debris, no sign of explosion..."

Voices floated around her. Will had by now arrived on the bridge. She heard the edge in his voice, his sharp commands, but the crew always rallied at that tone.

She stood in the shuttle bay, waiting-praying-for the sensors to come back on line, for some visual contact with the shuttle. She willed the shuttle to just appear, to dock, as if nothing occurred except an electronics glitch.

It never happened.

When it was clear the shuttle was not going to land, she made her way to the bridge. The first jostle of the turbo-lift left her swaying slightly. She leaned against the wall.

The bridge was calmer than the shuttle bay had been, but was still controlled chaos. Will Riker spat out questions and orders. In moments Beverly ascertained all external sensors and cameras were being jammed. The viewscreen was nothing but pixelated shades of black. She stood, just inside from the turbolift, watching and listening.

The conversation she had overheard replayed in her head. That woman, that... thingwanted him. It seemed like she was used to getting what she wanted. She flashed back to the woman's toying with them on the bridge. The Doctor was not one to believe easily in myths and legends, but she had experienced enough of Q to shudder at the thought of the possibilities of this woman's power and... desires.

Minutes stretched in to hours. Will had almost ordered her to her quarters, but when he saw the bleakness in her eyes, instead he gently ushered her to the Ready Room. "Just a few minutes. Just rest for a few minutes. I promise, I'll come get you the minute we break out of this cloak."

She started to argue. "Doctor." He used her title, getting her attention. "You're no good to us if you're exhausted." He paused, gauging he response. "Beverly, if he needs you, you need to be ready to help him." He saw the flash of anguish cross her features before she acquiesced.

Beverly stood where Will had left her. The doors hissed shut behind him. The Ready Room was lit only by the glow of the fish tank. Exhaustion pulled at her. Just a few minutes. Will was right. She had to be able to function if he needed her.

If he needed her.

She moved to the couch. She curled up against the end of it, not quite lying down. She scrunched the small pillow against her shoulder, leaning her face against it. It smelled like him. She let her eyes close, the scent surrounding her: Shaving soap and starch and the subtle cologne he wore evoking fine leather and pine forests and sandalwood.

"Someone close at hand and yet unattainable..."The words Ardra had teased the Captain with echoed incessantly in her mind. That was how *she* felt about the Captain, but Ardra had assumed the Captain would want Deanna.

Of course one would assume he wanted Deanna. Deanna was petite and curvy and feminine, with her abundance of long dark curls... Where she was too tall, too thin, and too bossy. She was never the compliant little female that men seemed to want; she couldn't keep her mouth shut, she always seemed to be debating...

Exhaustion pulled at her incessantly. Finally her brain gave in to her body's demand. It had been well over thirty six hours since she had last slept. She could fight it no longer.

Her sleep was full of violence and lust. A female with red skin and horns and claws fought with her. The creature had voluptuous curves, covered in skimpy, tight leather. She clawed at Beverly, and hissed at her like an angry cat. Beverly punched and scratched and kicked, wrestled and struggled. But her movements were slow, and heavy, like fighting in slow motion.

Then with a snap of her fingers, the demon left Beverly immobilized, frozen and unable to move or speak. She spoke in Ardra's voice, "I can give him everything he wants. I can fulfill his every fantasy." The creature now wore a blue Star Fleet uniform, and her hair was long and red. "HE IS MINE."

The she-devil moved over to Jean-Luc, where he was tied to a stake. Fire licked around them. The creature lifted a hand and raked it down his chest, shredding his uniform, trails of blood showing. A parody of a caress to his face left crimson claw tracks opening the skin of his cheek.

Beverly fought the paralysis, fought to scream. She had to help him. But a net wrapped around her, trapping her-

She sat up with a gasp, disoriented.

"Hey... hey..." The Captain was sitting on the edge of the couch, draping a blanket over her. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."

Her heart was pounding so hard she was sure he could hear it. She saw concern in his eyes as he reached slowly for her arm. She drank him in, he appeared completely unharmed. Without thought, she reached her hand up to touch the side of his face, still seeing the bloody rents in his skin.

He trapped her palm against his cheek. "Bad dream?" His voice was soft, a little rough. As awareness returned by degrees, she took in his tired features, finally recalled where she was and why. The lights were dim in the Ready Room.

"You're all right?" Her palm registered the warmth of his skin beneath, her fingers the fine stubble and softness. She felt the gentle grasp of his hand above hers. Her voice was hoarse with sleep... with trying to scream in the silence...

"I'm fine." His eyes drifted over her features. "Will said you just fell asleep an hour or so ago... I thought it best to let you rest."

"You're OK though?" She couldn't shake the dark, bloody images. They seemed more real than his presence now.

"Yes. Ardra was a grifter after all, and she's in custody."

"But she... she was in your quarters, and then you were gone... " A shudder went down Beverly's spine. The Captain changed tactics, settling next to her, wrapping the blanket around her shoulders. His arm remained there as well.

"You knew she was in my quarters?" An eyebrow raised in amusement.

"I, uh... " she looked at the fish tank, as if suddenly fascinated by it. "The computer said you were awake, I was going to give you a casualty report."

"But..." he coaxed.

"When I arrived your door wouldn't work. I called for security. I could hear you inside, but when security got the door opened, you were both gone."

"Oh. You heard... both of us?" Something in his tone had her glancing at him. He looked decidedly uncomfortable.

"I couldn't hear what you were saying, really. Just that she was in there and talking to you."

"Oh." The single syllable hung in the air.

"And then you were both gone." She meant it to sound matter-of-fact. Instead it sounded forlorn.

He leaned his head back, letting a sigh escape. She notice then how tired he too looked. "Yes, well... She thought she was making me an offer I could not refuse. Thankfully, my faith in my instincts and in my crew was not amiss."

"What happened? Where were you?" A delicate yawn escaped her. Without guile, she let her head drop, her cheek settling on his shoulder.

"Mr. Data found a precedent for arbitration, and so we argued our case." He shifted slightly, easing her more comfortably against his side.

"And you won." Her brain was telling her they should both retire to their quarters for some sleep. Her body felt heavy and remarkably comfortable.

"We won." He nodded, allowing a small yawn. "It's a good thing, she had plans for me had I lost." His eyes had drifted closed.

Suddenly she wasn't at all sleepy. "What kind of plans?"

"The deal was I would go with her willingly."

"You would... what?" She started to sit up straighter.

He cracked open one eye to glance at her. He tightened his arm around her shoulders slightly, coaxing her to stay. "I had no intention of losing, Doctor." A smug grin lit his features. A little green eyed monster appeared to be wanting to fight the Devil herself.

"She offered to do anything for you... to be anything you can imagine..." Jean-Luc heard the doubt and insecurity behind the words. Pondered them. She really was jealous?

"She could give me nothing I wanted." His fingers toyed with the ends of her hair. "Besides, I thought you didn't *really* hear?" His eyebrow rose, though his eyes remained closed.

"I... didn't... really.I heard her end of the conversation." He felt her tense. "Did she really think you want Deanna?"

"I suppose so." His tone revealed nothing. Long moments stretched.

"Do you?" Her voice was small.

"Do I... what?" He sounded genuinely confused.

"Want Deanna." She watched his face, seeing only amusement cross his features.

"Of course not." His answer was swift and without forethought.

"Good," she said with another yawn.

"We should probably go to bed." Her heart thudded at his words for just a second, then her tired mind actually interpreted his meaning.

"Mmmm," she agreed. "Probably." She made no effort to move. Neither did he.