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         Beverly Crusher looked up from her desk as the doors to Sickbay opened, and she had crossed to them almost before Deanna had time to enter.  One look at her friend told her everything she needed to know, and confirmed her worst fears.  Deanna stood not three feet away, in civilian clothes.


         Hiding her emotions had never been Beverly's strong suit, and it was obvious to Deanna almost immediately that the Doctor had heard all about the meeting with Admiral Bryant.  Before Bravely could even begin her barrage of questions, the Counselor motioned her back to the office she had just left.


         Once they were in relative privacy, Beverly spoke for the first time.  "Jean-Luc told me what happened with the Admiral.  Deanna, you can't be serious! I mean think about what this means! Your career, everything you've done here! Do you really want to -"


         "Yes Beverly, I really do.  Don't you see, I'm not throwing my career away.  I love my work, and I'm proud of everything that I've accomplished here.  But, I can do my job anywhere, any number of ways.  My only regret in any of this is how much I will miss you all.  You should know though that this isn't anything truly new.  I've been planning this for a while now, Ever since we realized how serious things were with Will after the accident." She looked down at her hands for a moment, then lifted her eyes again.  "Granted, I never thought it would be like THIS, but it's been coming for a long time.  Please understand."


         Tears threatened in Beverly's eyes, but she fought them back so that only her voice betrayed her emotion.  "I -- I do.  I guess in reality, we all knew, as soon as we realized that Will would be, well, you know.  It's just s unfair, all of it.  And I wish there was more that I could have done."


         "Don't do that to yourself Beverly.  We all now that a major part of the reason Will has made it this far is that he has had the best possible doctor he could have asked for.  If it had been anyone else...." she trailed off, unable or unwilling to consider the implications of the statement.  Deanna smiled weakly at her friend.  "This doesn't change anything important, you know.  You'll always be my best friend."


         Beverly grinned.  "I'll hold you to that, my friend."


         Deanna looked down for a moment, to refocus her thoughts.  When she returned her gaze to the doctor, her dark eyes had become even more serious.  "How is he today?" she asked softly.


         The doctor shrugged her shoulders and sighed defeatedly.  "Deanna, I wish I knew how to answer that.  A few hours ago, I would have said it seemed like a good day...his energy was up, so we had him up and about for awhile.  But his breathing has deteriorated again, and of course he keeps fighting me ever time I suggest the oxygenation unit.  Deanna, we need to get his condition stabilized enough for the surgery, and soon."


         Deanna nodded slowly.  "I know Beverly.  I'll work on him."


         "If anyone can, it's you."


         Deanna moved quietly into Will room in the private care wing of Sickbay.  His eyes were closed, but her sense of him told her that he was awake.  She took the seat beside his bed, brushing a kiss across his forehead.


         "Hi...beauti...ful." Will managed the greeting between uneven breaths, and just barely.  "Early?"


         She winced inwardly.  It was a bad day for him, and the details of the meeting, and the scene she had made, were not what he needed right now.  She smiled warmly at him instead.  "I'm right where I need to be, right here with you." She took one of his hands in hers.


         He caught sight of the ring that rested on her finger and grinned up at her as best he could.  "Defin..itly...out of...uniform to...night."


         Deanna smiled again.  Normally hidden beneath her uniform, her engagement ring now sparkled openly from it's place on her left ring finger.  "Came out of hiding just to make you smile." She watched for a moment as he struggled to respond, then pressed her fingers gently against his lips.  "'s ok, just relax."


         His eyes filled with anger and frustration, mirroring only a fraction of the torrent of emotion that radiated from him, telling her that, as far as he was concerned, it was far from OK.  Just then, he caught sight of the oxygenation unit in her hand.  His blue eyes darkened farther, flashing in adamant refusal.


         Deanna set the instrument down, and attempted to ease his protest even before it had fully formed itself in his mind.  "Will, it will just make it easier for you to breathe," she reminded him gently.  She didn't bother to mention that the unit also seemed to have the unexpected side effect of gradually easing  the severe damage to his lungs.  Beverly wasn't entirely sure yet what was causing it, and the effect was still to slight to have a significant impact. 


         Not that it would have mattered if she had.  Will's expression remained unchanged.  But this time, Deanna wasn't about to back down.  She leaned over his bed, close enough for Will to feel the warmth of her breath on his face, and their eyes locked.                                           


         When she finally spoke, her voice was soft, but it held a serious edge.  "I know you're frustrated, and angry, and in pain.  But there is something that you need to understand," she paused.  Her eyes shimmered briefly, but a moment later, her eyes drilled into him as she spoke, finishing her statement in a quiet, steady voice.  "I am trying to keep you ALIVE...and I will NOT lose you this way."


         Will blinked at the sheer force of her determination.  Not for the first time in the countless weeks since the accident, he felt his guilt rise within him at the thought of what her was putting her through.


         Deanna felt the shift in his emotions, but she didn't have a chance to comment before his voice sounded sounded unexpectedly in in her mind.  He'd solved the issue of his in ability to speak, she mused as his words echoed through her.


         ~ I'm sorry, Imzadi.  ~


         He'd solved the issue of his in ability to speak, she mused as his words echoed through her.  Deanna squeezed the hand she still held in her own before shaking her head.  "Don't be sorry, just help me...let me help you."


         At his nod, she slipped the tiny unit into place as Beverly had taught her and pressed the button to activate it.  Slowly, the color returned to Will's pale features, his chest rising and falling in a more even rhythm as the unit regulated the flow of oxygen rich air through his body.  Soon, he began to drift into a dreamless sleep.


         Only then did Deanna release a sigh of relief, and allow herself to acknowledge the exhaustion that threatened to overwhelm her.