Consciousness beckoned, but the warmth was heavy and welcoming. Quiet beeps, hums, and voices, coalesced into recognizable patterns. Her leg was leaden, foreign feeling, but it did not hurt. She was too tired to move her arm. It did not hurt.

She was awake when they beamed aboard; had insisted upon viewing the scans before consenting to the inevitable anesthesia and surgeries.

He had returned to sickbay. She was aware of him, hovering at the edges of the room; could just smell the dust and sharp bitterness of the crushed roots still on his uniform and hands. Strong, sure hands that had been incredibly gentle... Why wasn't he on the bridge?

Her head was blessedly pain free now. She did not want to open her eyes yet. Painkillers and anti-inflammatories coursed through her, as well as antibiotics fighting the minute particles of dirt and microscopic pathogens from the filthy wounds.

His presence edged into her awareness again. He must have showered, put on a fresh uniform, shaved. Sandalwood, and something piney and fresh teased her nose. Warmth, confidence and calm entered the room with him.

He had always had that effect on a room. She always knew when he walked in; it was as if the very vibration of the air changed. Jack had always been funnier, quicker, more... more than himself when Jean-Luc was around. She was more confident, smarter... A dull pang of longing accompanied those thoughts. Where had that come from? Anesthesia and analgesics...

Warm fingers lifted hers. His thumb gently brushed her knuckles. Frustration rose, she wanted to curl her hand into his—but the simple gesture was beyond her. She needed to speak, to thank him, but her voice betrayed her as well.

Suddenly the warmth and lethargy was sinister. Eyes refused to open. Limbs failed to move. But her sickbay did not fail her; soft beeps summoned a swish of cool air and Doctor Hill's voice.

Her brain could not keep up with the speed of the conversation, "... waking soon..." Richard's soothing professional voice.

The thumb brushed her knuckles again, her fingers resting limply against his. She wanted him to hold on to her hand, to anchor her so she could come back.

"... nerve damage..." Why was Jean-Luc's tone worried? He was never worried... at least not in public.

"... won't know... nerve regeneration... nanites... " Richard's cautious tone.

Trying to pay attention was too much. Exhaustion pulled, relentless.

He was still there. The feather brush of a thumb on the back of her hand clarified. She curled her fingers and was rewarded with his strong hand encompassing hers.

"Why aren't you on the bridge?" her voice cracked, but obeyed her.

"Lieutenant La Forge neglected to return my ship in the condition I left it. He has command until he rectifies the situation." His voice was edged with humour. She opened her eyes. The dim lighting comforted. She blinked a few times, edges were fuzzy.

"Jean-Luc..." Somehow it was odd that he held her right hand. Her right forearm was foreign to her; clumsy, tight with newly repaired muscle and skin. Concern flashed in his gaze, she instinctively tightened her grip in his, the worry unsettling her.

But then the crinkles appeared, and a sparkle lit his hazel eyes. This time his thumb brushed the inside of her wrist, The heat thrummed somewhere else entirely. She searched his face..

Doctor Hill entered, a glance at their clasped hands eliciting a broad smile. "Doctor Crusher, how do you feel?" He raised the back of the biobed.

"Like I was run over by a meteor."

Jean-Luc turned his head, tried to hide his grin at her reply. The captain stood, squeezing her hand slightly. Reluctantly, she relinquished her grip on him as he stepped aside for the doctor. He remained nearby in a dim corner of the room while Richard poked and prodded, asked all the pertinent questions.

It was not until Doctor Hill began running nerve diagnostics on her hand that it clicked... Her gaze darted to where he stood. Even in the subdued lighting she could see the intensity with which he watched her hand, her reactions.

"Very good. Excellent." Richard smiled with relief as he sat back and looked at her. "A couple of days of rest and you'll be just like new."

Perhaps it was sheer denial, but she had never even let the thought of nerve damage enter her mind. She had seen the severity of the compound fracture, had known it was a distinct possibility. She had just refused to acknowledge it. Jean-Luc had seen it too, and he had known. And he had remained by her side.

Warmth and gratitude and... something else... washed through her. Her eyes found his, across the small room.

"... if you get some rest now, later we'll get you back to your own quarters." Richard was speaking to her again, she focused on him. He fiddled with the biobed computer a moment more, then was gone.

The space between them had become awkward somehow. He stepped forward again, hesitant this time to reach for her hand. Gratefully she curled her fingers, encouraging his grasp to tighten. His relief was palpable.

"Not bad field triage for a captain." Her voice came out softer than the light sarcasm she intended.

"Yes, well..." He covered their joined hands with his other, the gesture resonating all the way to her toes. "I had excellent instruction."

"I'll let you rest now, Doctor." He lifted their hands. For the briefest of moments she thought he was going to kiss her hand. Something fluttered madly beneath her ribs. He drew her hand slightly toward him, then with a gentle squeeze, released her. "Sleep well, Beverly."

The way he said her name rumbled in the place that fluttered. "Thank you, Jean-Luc. For... everything." She could not interpret the look he gave her before stepping away, pinning her with intensity. At the door, he turned, briefly glancing at her again. Her hand tingled where it rested against her belly. It had nothing to do with the surgery.