"I am OK... Go..."

Every muscle in his body ached, every joint protested. Slowly he dragged in a breath, then another. He had been dead, he was sure of it. With the third breath, he opened his eyes and commanded them to stay open. A groan accompanied his roll to the side. Herculean effort lifted him on his elbow. Another man might have given up, but not Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

"Beverly..." the word escaped, half prayer, half order to himself.

By the time he reached the threshold, he was drenched in sweat and almost hyperventilating with effort and pain. But urgency compelled him forward. He stepped into the dank, windy darkness. Fog kissed his skin, stealing warmth. Belatedly he tapped at his communicator, a baleful single chirp greeted him; whatever Ronin had hit him with must have fried it.

He lost track of time in his tortuous journey to the graveyard. It might have been minutes, it might have been hours when he finally saw the dim lights ahead. Ominous silence greeted him as he made his way forward. He saw Geordi first, prostrate. Moved to his side, checked for and found a thready pulse. Data lay on the opposite side of the open grave, his limbs splayed unnaturally, his eyes wide and unblinking. He tapped on Geordi's comm badge, rewarded by a double chirp. "Enterprise, beam Misters LaForge and Data directly to sickbay..." He broke off, searching... must be an after effect, his heart felt as if it were beating erratically—impossible for the titanium pump.

Then he saw her... At the edge of the light. He would have missed her if she were not still wearing her white robe and gown. She was on the ground. Dread pushed up his throat with bile as he approached, then he perceived her sobs. Her shoulders shook, though she was mostly silent. Forgetting his own pain, he rushed to her side, slowing only when close—then approaching as if she were a wild fawn who might panic.

"Beverly..." His voice broke slightly. Gently, oh-so-slowly, he reached for her shoulder. She was sitting, arms wrapped around her knees, head bowed. At his soft touch her breath caught. A shuddery breath in, then, "Jean-Luc?"

She lifted her head to look at him. Fat tears rolled from her eyes. "Oh, God... Jean-Luc, I should have come back for you, I should have... "

"Shh..." he interrupted her, "It's all right. Are you hurt?" His other hand found her other shoulder. Awkwardly, he knelt next to her, trying to ascertain if she was injured.

She wrapped her hands around his forearms. "Oh... Jean-Luc... are YOU alright? I thought... I thought... " a sob and a hiccup, "your heart—he... " She broke off, eyes wide. Beautiful BLUE eyes, shiny with tears in the scant light.

"I'm all right, thanks to you." He caught the shimmer of the transporter at the edge of his vision, Geordi and Data had been taken to sickbay, a security team had arrived. Mr. Worf was with them, and kept them back from the captain and the doctor. "Where is Ronin?"

Fresh tears pushed out of her eyes, and she looked away from him. "Gone." He waited, thumbs gently rubbing absent circles on her arms. "I didn't know. I mean, I did, I guess... I knew something was wrong, but... " She tried to bow her head again, but he pulled at her upper arms. With a watery sigh she relented and let him draw her to his chest. "I used Geordi's phaser to destroy the candle..." Her hands now clutched at the front of his uniform. "Then I... " her voice broke, "I used it on him."

Worf had been unobtrusively listening to the exchange. The captain gave him a nod over Beverly's head. The Lieutenant stepped away, and the security team fanned out, now armed with tricorders as well as phasers.

The captain found his hand in Beverly's hair. His lips drifted to her temple. Softly he voiced the question he was most afraid of, "Did he hurt you?"

The vehemence of her response startled him, "No! He hurt YOU Jean-Luc!" She pulled away enough to look at him. One hand reached up to caress his cheek, her fingers paused on his lips for a moment. "You need to go to sickbay. He stopped... " She had to pause, to swallow, "He stopped your heart." More tears fell on her red, chapped cheeks. "Oh, Jean-Luc, I'm so sorry... It's my fault, I should have known-"

He reached a hand up, caught her fingers in his own. "How could you have known? How is this your fault? YOU did not hurt me Beverly..." He broke off, for a moment, then taking a breath full of courage, continued, "Except when you handed me your resignation without explanation and left m- the Enterprise." He brought her hand to his chest, gently held it captive. "He fooled you. He used you."

"I'm just so stupid... " Beverly pulled away from him a bit then, more emotionally than physically. She did not move from his embrace, but he felt the wall she put up between them as clearly as a force field. She seemed to calm herself, but in doing so, pulled inward. A huge shiver wracked her, and he realized how cold she must be in the dank night air in just her nightdress and silky robe.

"Mr. Worf," he signalled, "Could you have us beamed up?"

"To sickbay." Beverly interjected, dully. The captain began to object. "Jean-Luc," she said quietly, "He stopped your heart." She looked at him again, for just a moment, and the emotion in her features was enough to forestall any argument. The raw, dark cemetery shimmered into the familiar walls of sickbay.

=/\=

They had argued in sickbay. She had declined to be checked, until he stated he would refuse to be seen unless she did. It was a private, quiet argument, for all that it had the intensity of a Vulcan volcano ready to blow. In the end her guilt over his injury goaded her surrender.

That was three days ago. Three days in which she had not shown for breakfast. Three days in which he convinced himself she was actually avoiding him. For two days he justified it as grief and shock. On the second day she had beamed down to the planet for a last few hours to straighten out affairs at Felisa's cottage. He justified his keeping tabs on her as a security measure. After all, no one could say with any certainty exactly what had happened to the anaphasic being.

Engineering had finished up repairs to the weather-shield and other terraform systems by noon on the third day. By evening they had broken orbit and were leaving the system. Data was repaired and back to full duty, Geordi had been released from Sickbay and cleared for duty. Beverly had taken 'a few days off,' according to Dr. Selar. She was entitled to bereavement leave, but somehow it surprised and worried him that she'd taken it, and annoyed him inordinately that she had not told him.

He pried as much as he could out of Deanna, under the guise of the captain checking on his chief medical officer's status. Deanna had been singularly unhelpful, saying only that Beverly needed both time alone, and the support of her friends. Now what in the bloody hell was THAT supposed to mean?

Ever since the debacle that was their dinner following KesPrytt six weeks ago, he was completely off balance around her. He found himself attracted to her more than ever, but she had rebuffed him... And in hindsight, he realized she well could have misinterpreted his words around the campfire, that he 'no longer had those feelings.' He had meant he no longer had the feelings of guilt. Her reaction to his declaration of intent had him believing she thought he didn't love her any more...

And so he found himself standing just outside of sensor range at her doorway, thinking he might rather face the Borg than his redheaded ship's doctor. But he needed her. At times it almost terrified him how much he needed her. He had come close to admitting it, when he wrote the report of his imprisonment and torture at the hands of Gul Madred; but he had skirted the truth, too shaken by the evidence of his weak link so clearly exposed. Only the Cardassian and himself knew the truth of it, that he was willing to submit torture, that he voluntarily returned, if it would save Beverly... he would die for her.

Shaking himself out of the darkness which had slithered into him, Jean-Luc stepped forward and rang the announcer. A moment and the door slid open for him. He was not sure what he expected, but darkness was not it. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust, then he saw her, sitting on her couch. A colourful, handmade afghan draped her shoulders. She said nothing in the way of greeting.

"Beverly?" He inquired softly. She didn't move.

Cautiously, he approached. Concern for her overwhelmed his nerves and discomfort. The only light came from the stars warping by the porthole. "Computer, reading light, thirty percent," he ordered softly. A single lamp came on over the couch, just a dim, warm glow. She closed her eyes against the glare. She wore no makeup, and her hair hung long, un-styled. He loved how she looked with her sultry eye-makeup and fancy hair styles, somettimes understated and professional, sometimes ultra-sophisticated... but he found himself almost gut-punched at her now, despite her pallor, she was stunning

"Beverly..." He had no idea what to say. He saw a fine shudder pass over her, and only then noticed the medical pan on the couch next to her. She visibly paled, then reached for the pan. Jean-Luc recognized the symptoms, and sat gently next to her, pulling her hair back and holding it while she vomited. It was mostly dry heaves, and after a few moments, she put the pan back down, and slumped against the back of the couch, exhausted.

The captain swiftly got up and retrieved a wash cloth from her lav, dampening it with cool water. He sat down again next to her, careful not to jostle her, and gently wiped her face. She sighed and her features softened a bit. "Thank you." She whispered in a hoarse voice.

"What can I get you? Water? Electrolyte replacement?" Worry filled his voice.

"Nothing right now, thanks." She shook her head slightly, then thought better of it.

"Why aren't you in sick-bay?" He asked, not accusingly.

"Nothing they can do." She said weakly.

"Not even anti-nausea?" He was appalled, he hated seeing her like this. If she were one of her patients, she would not be suffering, he was sure.

"No." Shivers wracked her again. He reached over wrapped the quilt more tightly around her, leaving an arm around her shoulders. Gratefully she sank against him.

"What's wrong with you?" He asked softly, somewhat afraid of the answer.

"Withdrawal."

The hum of the ship was the only sound in her quarters for a moment as he tried to suss out her meaning.

"What?" He finally asked, "From what?"

"From the anaphasic... um... neural... stimulation." Two spots of pink blossomed on her otherwise deathly pale face. She kept her eyes closed. "It seems it's as addictive to the nervous system as things like LSD and heroin were a few hundred years ago." Her voice broke a little. Another shiver shuddered her frame, but it seemed slightly less intense.

"Why didn't you say something?" He tried not to sound irritated. But he was. Damn her for not letting someone help her. How long had she been suffering alone in her quarters? Stupid, stubborn... and he realised with chagrin how many times she had accused him of the same.

"How long?" He brushed her hair off her clammy forehead.

"Probably just another night or two." Her breathing was slowing, she was exhausted. He wondered if she had slept at all in the last three days. He moved, intending to shift position to make them both more comfortable. She whimpered slightly and reached for him. "Don't go just yet?" Her quiet plea made something ache beneath his heart.

"I'm not going anywhere." He murmured, soothing her. And he wouldn't, until she was through this, he vowed. He tucked her more securely against him, and brought the knitted blanket up to the bottom of her chin.

He thought she'd fallen asleep when she spoke again, quietly. "I'm so sorry Jean-Luc."

He shifted just a bit more, propping his feet up on the footstool, bringing more of her against him. "What are you sorry for?"

"So much... He hurt you... I hurt you a few weeks'go..." her words were starting to slur together. "Sorry I'mscared... so 'shamed I fell for a ghost..."

"Beverly," he combed his fingers through her hair, savoring the feel. "Ronan made you want him. There's nothing to be ashamed of. You said it yourself, he made you become addicted to him." But he knew how important control was to her; above all else... His fingers lightly massaged her scalp and the nape of her neck.

"Shouldna... shouldna been able to..." She took a deep, slow breath in and out and he thought she finally stopped fighting sleep. "'dicted to my Captain."

He smiled, and let his lips find her temple. Finally peaceful, she slipped into a quiet sleep.

=/\=

Once she had been able to sleep peacefully, she had begun to heal. By morning she was not shivering at all, and she had not had dry heaves in several hours. When he felt her starting to stir, he surreptitiously disengaged himself from her, and tucked the afghan around her. He left a large glass of juice nearby for her. At lunch he checked on her, and found her looking much better. She was sitting by her plants, reading more of Felisa's journals.

They made small talk for a few minutes, she reassured him she was on the mend. When he was ready to leave, she stood and walked to the door with him. Her hand lightly resting on his arm captured him before he departed.

"Thank you, Jean-Luc." She met his gaze evenly.

"Oh, it was nothing... you'd have done the same for me..." He was uncomfortable with her gratitude.

"Not just for last night—although it is the first time I've slept," she said with a rueful grin. "But for... everything." She paused, her face serious, her eyes storm-cloud blue. "For not giving up on me." She brushed her lips lightly on his cheek. He turned his face toward her, and for a heartbeat their lips were a breath apart. She smiled, breaking the spell, and stepped back, a sparkle in her eyes again.

"Breakfast tomorrow?" She inquired.

He cleared his throat, and straightened his uniform jacket. "Breakfast." He smiled.