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         It took Will four days to convince Beverly that he was well enough to leave Sickbay. And not for lack of trying, either. But this time Crusher was adamant. Despite the fact that surgery such as Will's was not all that uncommon these days, it was still major surgery, and they had yet to isolate the cause of the damage to his system in the first place.

 

         Nevertheless, after day four Beverly knew she had no other choice than to release him to his quarters once more. After all, she reasoned, his condition HAD improved greatly from what it had been -- and Will agitation at being stuck in Sickbay was probably doing more harm than anything else for the time being.

 

         It was the part about not being able to isolate the cause of her friends injuries that troubled Beverly the most. Heaven knew she was no stranger to the hunt for an unknown agent. Hell, she'd had more than enough practice with such things in the dozen or so years she's served on the Enterprise. But, she knew -- they all knew -- this was different.

 

         This time she couldn't make it right, and the lives of her two best friends were changed forever. Will's career as he knew it was over. And Deanna...well, she more than anything was the reason Beverly knew she couldn't give up. Not that she would have, but Deanna's need for answers, and the lengths to which it had driven her were still a driving force in the doctor's mind.

 

         Not that it was getting her anywhere. She sighed loudly, and pushed her screen away. "If I could just figure out how it caused the damage in the first place!" The exasperated statement was met with silence from her empty office. That was the missing piece, she could feel it. If she just knew the HOW, she'd know where to look for the WHAT. And then there was the matter of the response to the oxygenation treatments...

 

         At least Data had a theory or two on that. Data...he'd been a great help so far, even if only by pledging his time and effort to finding the answers in his spare time. He was already taking over Will's duties as First Officer. At least there was a benefit to not needing sleep, she mused.

 

         She checked the time, and got to her feet. Lieutenant West was due for a follow-up exam from an away mission injury last week, and then she'd need to go check on Will. She left her office, leaving the unanswered questions to themselves for the time being.

 

*  *  *

 

         "What's to think about? It's a great opportunity."

 

         Deanna nodded. "That's part of what bothers me. It's unprecedented, they're reaching."

 

         Will shrugged awkwardly. "I don't think that's anything to worry about. We're in an unprecedented situation at the moment. Between losses in the war and the unrest the whole thing has caused, good officers are at a premium to say the least." He offered her a characteristic grin, "And, all bias aside, you ARE the best."

 

         Deanna tried unsuccessfully not to smile. "OK...so maybe we don't have to worry about my paranoid side. Still, there is so much all at once...with you being sick, and the baby...I just don't know."

 

         "I know, it's all a complicated mess right now. But Deanna, it's two years from now. And an amazing chance to further your career. Who knows how different things will be in two years? And, it IS a planetside assignment -- you'll be home regularly. Doesn't seem like all that bad of an idea to me, Dea."

 

         The smile she wore widened. "Well, when you put it that way, I guess it seems almost silly to turn it down."

 

         "Almost."

 

         She shrugged, "Guess I should tell them I'll do it, then. Pending how things do in the next two years, of course." Her eyes moved over Will in a way that told him exactly what it was that worried her.

 

         "But you know, I wouldn't blame you if you felt you had to turn it down. You have a lot on your hands at the moment as it is. Don't take on more than you can deal with."

 

         Deanna laughed at the irony. "OK, you're sending mixed singles here, Mister! Just what are you trying to tell me, Imzadi?"

        

         Will smiled. "Just that, this is you're decision. And whatever choice you make, I'm right behind you in perfect agreement." He squeezed her hand for emphasis.

 

         Deanna frowned slightly. "Perfect agreement, huh?" She reached up and felt playfully at his forehead. "Are you sure you are feeling all right? This just isn't like you at all, and --"

 

         Will reached up and grabbed the hand that still hovered near his face. "You wanna know how I feel?" He tugged her in his direction, kissing her as soon as she was within reach.

 

         When the kiss ended, they were both more than a little breathless. When Deanna was certain they had both recovered properly, she found her voice, tinted with laughter. "Right, just as I thought. I'll take your word for it."

 

         They shared a laugh, only to be interrupted by a door chime. They looked at each other and groaned aloud in unison...

 

         "Beverly!"