TENDER LOVING CARE
- - - Part 1
Picard woke up with a start.
His nausea woke up, too, creeping up from his stomach. But it wasn't as bad as it had been yesterday . . . he thought. Lying under rumpled covers in the dim, maybe morning/maybe evening light of his cabin's bedroom, Picard felt weary and grimy in the same bedclothes that he'd worn the day before. It was only a two-day illness, right? Just a mutated, Maluvian stomach virus that a third of the ship was down with, right?
"Uuuuuhhhh." He still had another day to go through.
Picard tugged the covers straight . . . and found an arm lying across his middle. He turned his head.
A body faced him . . . a profile . . . Beverly Crusher lay at his side, on the bed. Picard froze and stared. Had something happened besides his illness? He couldn't think of anything. She'd visited him a couple times, smugly well and healthy. The captain's illness hadn't merited a spot in an overcrowded Sickbay, so the doctor had come to him. On her last visit he'd thought that she had not looked nearly so cheerful and self-satisfied as she had earlier. He asked the computer for the time: 06:12.
He squinted when the lights came up, reminding him of why he'd lay in the dark most of the previous day. He carefully lifted Crusher's arm and turned on his side to face her. He touched the side of her face; it felt warm.
"Beverly . . . "
" . . . Beverly?"
Crusher groaned. She did not want to wake up. She did not want to move. She was just barely comfortable now and any change at all would ruin that delicate balance. Someone was touching her.
Oh no. She opened her eyes. There was Jean-Luc Picard, lying next to her. In his pajamas.
Oh no. She moved and then shut her eyes, put her hand to her forehead and ran into his wrist. She knew she had a temperature.
What were you thinking last night? She looked up at Picard, who was propped up on his elbow. He'd turned the room lights on and they were too bright.
"I don't want you to take this wrong, Beverly. But what are you doing here?"
Embarrassment churned her stomach along with the illness. She was in her uniform, wearing her blue medical jacket. His was shirtless under the covers.
"I-I'm sorry," she started to rise and then thought better of it. "I came last night when you were asleep. I thought I was starting to feel ill, but I wanted to stop by before I . . . " she paused. "Well, when I sat down, I thought I was going to faint. So, I . . . "
"Made yourself at home?" he finished.
"Uuh." She closed her eyes, put her hand to her forehead again. His hand moved to her shoulder.
"Well, at least stay long enough to get your strength back," she heard him say.
Crusher didn't really want to stay, particularly in his bed, when she was feeling so ill. But she didn't feel like getting up and fainting or worse, either. She lay quietly, hoping that as her body woke up, she might start feeling well enough get up. After long minutes, she started feeling less unwell, but no more energetic.
Picard did get up. She opened her eyes to see his back facing her. Wearing just a pair of gray, short pants, he sat on the edge of the bed. Then with a grunt, he launched himself upward and unsteadily toward the lavatory.
Crusher closed her eyes. But it was too late. She had to go now.
When Picard came out, he noisily opened drawers. Then she heard him returning to the bed, and a blanket covered her half way. She wasn't really cold, but it felt nicer to be covered anyway. He tugged at her jacket.
"Hey," he said softly, nudging her to a half sitting position. She leaned heavily on him, her hair clinging to his shoulder as he slid her jacket down off her.
I'm not going to stay.
He'd got the jacket down to her elbows and now had it hung up on her arms.
You don't undress many people, do you Jean-Luc?
Her head still resting on his shoulder, she tried to help, but that only made it worse with both their hands getting trapped in the folds of the sleeves.
"Ow!" She lifted her head when he tugged her arm backward.
"Sorry," he apologized, steadying her shoulders. She leaned on him again, taking deep breaths, her cheek next to the bare skin of his neck. She hadn't really done anything, but she was already tired of sitting up. Picard slowly, carefully pulled the jacket the rest of the way off. She gratefully lay down again. He covered her.
"Picard to Sickbay."
Oh no. But he'd already made the call to Sickbay. A few moments later, after Picard had put on a long gray bathrobe, Doctor Selar entered. Vulcans were immune to this Maluvian stomach virus. A model of logical calm and tact, Selar did her examination, scanned Crusher and delivered her diagnosis and treatment. It was exactly the same sentence that Crusher had pronounced on Captain Picard, and dozens of others, the day before. Not a word was spoken about where they were or whose bed the chief medical officer was lying in. Selar gave her a shot of durhalin for the nausea, and CHW-35 to suppress the virus. Crusher imagined that Selar might have raised an eyebrow about where they were-she kept her eyes closed during the procedure-but nothing more than that.
After Selar was gone, Crusher heard Picard-had he been standing there while Selar looked her over?-go into the main room. Was he going to take the sofa? All gallantry aside, Crusher thought that would be ridiculous. If two friends couldn't peacefully share a sick bed together no, it wasn't a bed they were sharing she reconsidered. It was this damn virus. She turned her head toward the lavatory, once again reminding herself that she really was going to have to pry herself up anyway.
Picard reached the replicator and gave his order to the computer; it was the same thing Doctor Crusher had made him take the previous day and the same thing that Selar had just proscribed. He rested his head against the wall as the tray materialized. He really was feeling better-lethargic, but the fever flush and nausea were nearly gone. After seeing to Crusher, Selar had scanned him, and pronounced him unfit for duty, but improved as expected.
He reached down into the replicator slot and picked up one of the glasses. A simple glass of teska-orange juice-proscribed by Selar. It felt good going down.
Carrying the tray back to the bedroom, Picard played with the idea of putting on a uniform and going up to the bridge. With all of the medical personnel-and now Doctor Crusher-either hopelessly busy or ill, who would notice?
Picard stood in the doorway. Beverly Crusher was gone. The crumpled gray blanket at the foot of the bed told him where she'd been, and the closed lavatory door told him where she probably was. He put the tray down on the nightstand and pushed back a few long, drooping leaves from the row of potted plants between the bed pillows and the small, narrow view port on the slanted wall behind them.
Going over to the drawers by the lavatory door, he rummaged through them again. None of the shirts were nearly long enough. There was a light, knee-length jacket that didn't close in the front, a very short bathrobe, a heavy Acturan smock and pants that he'd worn once two years ago, and a straight-cut, green Balzonian kirtle with a long, yellow, tasseled strip of cloth attached at the neck and hanging down in front. It was the decorative overgarment for a Balzonian riding outfit.
The lavatory door opened and Beverly Crusher stood, leaning on the door frame. He presented his findings and she shook her head.
"Jean-Luc, I can't stay. I just need to rest a few minutes . . ." she said, while wondering what had happened to her casual thoughts about two friends sharing a sick bed. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath to quell a wave of lightheadedness.
"Beverly." He touched her shoulder. "If you feel anything like what I did yesterday, then I don't think you'll make it to your quarters unless someone caries you. Unless you'd like to take the transporter."
"No," she answered scrunching her face up in distaste. Transporting with nausea was really horrible. She opened her eyes and turned her head toward the offerings on the bureau. She stretched out an arm and pulled tan cloth away from the pile. It was a pair of pants. She held them in front of her own womanly hips that would obviously not fit into them. She let them drop to the floor and pulled more selections to her. The bathrobe was much too short. Does he really wear this? The long shirt didn't close in the front.
Bet you'd like to see me in that, Jean-Luc.
The long green thing was acceptable except . . .
Rrrrriiiiiiiiiiippppppp! The strip of yellow tassels came away easily. It looked as if it had been sew on by hand. She certainly wouldn't have been able to get them off if she'd needed to exert much strength. Picard's expression was one of shock as she turned back to the lavatory. Hand made clothing was uncommon and valuable in a technological world of replicated necessities. She didn't care. Tough.
Crusher leaned on the closed door and thought about how nice it would be to just curl up in a corner right then. She touched the clasp at the back of the collar of her uniform and immediately the seam in back loosened and she pulled it apart. She slid the uniform off her shoulders and down past her hips. She was down past her knees before she realized that she hadn't taken her boots off.
Grunting she sat down on the carpeted floor and making too much noise. A knock at the door answered her and Picard asked if she was all right.
"I'm fine!" she shouted back, glaring up at the sink and the mirror above it. She tugged a boot off and thought about how nice a hot bath would be. She pulled the other boot and the socks off and tossed them away. Then she rested her arms on her knees and put her head down and thought about not throwing up. The standard medication for the nausea was durhalin; she'd been giving it to dozens of people the previous day. But the shot Selar had given her didn't work nearly so well for patients who insisted on getting up.
After a moment's rest, she freed her ankles from her uniform and picked up the green thing from where she'd dropped it. The material was smooth and light, but she sniffed it-it smelled stale, not unclean, just as if it had been lying in the drawer next to Jean-Luc Picard's other clothes for a couple of years. She pulled it on over her head, tugging it down around her body. Then she tried standing up. And was too noisy again.
"I'm all right." she answered to Picard's knock, but not as loudly as before. Leaning against the counter, she reached out and unlocked the door.
"Beverly?" Picard paused in the doorway before entering and putting an arm around her. He touched her forehead, warm against the skin of the back of his hand.
"Come on." He guided her out of the lavatory and back to the bed.
Crusher lay down. Her bout of nausea fading considerably as soon as she curled up on her side, her nose pressed into the pillow. He'd changed the sheets. He covered her, and then sat down on the bed.
"Hey," she heard him say, his hand on her shoulder. She opened her eyes. He was holding a glass with something pink in it.
"Oh no," she groaned, turning over, away from him, dragging the sheets and blanket with her.
"Hey, hey." He gently turned her back toward him. "Having trouble taking your own medicine, Doctor?" His hand slid behind her back, helping her to sit up. He's getting back at me for yesterday. She grimaced at the glass of cherry-flavored, nutritionally balanced, Sickbay pseudo-milkshake. She downed the first swallow with her head pressed against his shoulder.
When she'd finished, he put the empty glass down on the nightstand and let her back down to the pillow. He pulled the blanket up over her and briefly touched her flushed cheek. He looked down on her for long minutes, until he thought she was asleep . . .
"Are you going to sit there all morning?" Crusher opened her eyes a crack.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean disturb you." He began to rise, but her hand on his leg stopped him.
"Where are you going?"
"Oh, um, I thought I'd . . . " Where was he going? He really did feel like lying down, the lingering symptoms of his own stomach virus still with him. But he wasn't so tired that it outweighed his emotions about lying down next to Beverly Crusher. " . . . I'd, ah, take a shower."
"Um." She closed her eyes again, accepting his excuse.
He got up and went to the lavatory. What was he afraid of? he asked himself as he stripped and got into the shower. A string of embarrassing teenage memories played across his mind. He closed his eyes and swayed, the hot water spraying down on him made him flush and dizzy. He ordered the computer to lower the temperature 5oC.
Stop it. He clamped down on his stray thoughts. They were both long past that stage of life and nothing was going to happen.
He got out of the shower and dried himself with a towel. He was halfway out the door before he remembered who was in the bed and hastily wrapped the towel about his waist. He retrieved fresh pajamas from the dresser and retreated to the lavatory again.
Crusher hadn't moved when he came out. He carefully sat down on the other side of the bed and slid his legs under the blanket. She didn't stir. Trying not to jostle the bed, he settled himself on the pillows. If Crusher felt as ill as he had the previous day, then any type of motion would only aggravate it. And he had to admit to himself that it felt good to lie down. Having done nothing more strenuous than take a shower, he felt as if he'd been exercising for hours. His face felt warm and he wondered if his temperature was going up again.
"Computer, turn down the lights." The room lights dimmed. It was morning, but it could have just as easily been evening in the ship's artificial environment. He looked to where Beverly Crusher lay, a dark outline of another person lying next to him. They lay close enough to touch, but apart. He wanted to touch her. He wanted . . . to be closer. He could have stretched out his hand and brushed his hand against her, but he didn't. He closed his eyes. It was useless pursuing that line of thought. He had said all her had to her about it and it would not go any further until, or unless, Beverly Crusher chose to let it. He dozed in the dark, listening to the sound of her breathing and half dreaming that they lay closer together.
- - - End Part 1