The two tired Officers left sickbay and headed to the bridge. The seasoned observer of the two might notice they walked closely, or that the Captain briefly put a hand on the CMO's lower back as he ushered her into the lift.

The silence was comfortable, each lost in their own thoughts for the moment. The Captain stood slightly taller, squaring his shoulders just before the lift doors opened to the bridge.

Beverly looked around, almost every console and station was opened up, showing wires and computer componets. The smell of burnt electronics was strong, and she expected to see lingering smoke.

"Sir," Data acknowledged the Captain. "All decks are reported in, a total of forty-eight casualties, twelve of which require Sickbay. Computers and communication throughout the ship have experienced system-wide failures. Chief LaForge has been able to get full impulse power from the engines, but the warp drive is offline. The warp coils are in no current danger. The force-field is holding one hundred percent on the breached seam. "

"Very good, Commander. You have the bridge until Beta shift." The Captain swept his gaze over the work being done on his bridge, satisfied with the progress.

"It is good to see you well, Doctor." Data said, solicitously.

Beverly smiled at his unintentional pun. "Thank you, Data."

The Captain returned to her side, gesturing her ahead of him into the turbolift. Once the doors closed, he let out a sigh which characterized his fatigue. The Doctor instinctively raised her hand to gently rub his arm, only after making contact realizing she was crossing a line... she did not remove her hand.

"Have you eaten?" She asked quietly, as they departed the lift and headed toward his quarters.

"No." he nodded. Stepping into his quarters, he surveyed the damage. Only a few items were scattered about, most of his shelves were recessed with retaining edges, much the same as ships had been in the ancient ocean going fleet. The books were safe, the clutter minimum. He picked up quickly.

"Go." The Doctor told him, just shy of her Command tone. "Take a shower. I'll get us some dinner. Or, I guess it's breakfast now... "

He watched her bend to pick up a padd and replace it on his desk. He was too exhausted to contemplate the deep sense of peace he felt, having her there with him. He conceded to her wishes, only noticing as he stripped out of it that his uniform smelled distinctly of smoldering electronics.

He let the hot water pulse over him, relieving sore muscles from the night's stress and battering. His left arm ached slightly, but only enough to remind him to be careful.

What now? He had her where he wanted her at this moment. No, he acknowledged, not one to lie to himself; He had her where he NEEDED her at this moment. Too weary for more amorous or adventurous desires, he wanted nothing more than to have her next to him, where he could hold her, sure of her safety.

Last night-the night before now-had been a tease. To hold her, protect her, cherish her... he had felt a satisfaction so deep he could barely name it. He wanted more, he had always wanted more, but he also had found how content he could be just assured of her presence.

Stepping out of the shower, he dried off and dressed in sleep pants and a t-shirt. He was too tired to shave.

She had decided they needed something more substantial than their habitual breakfast, and had replicated a quiche with vegetables, cheese and ham. She was just setting down the second plate when he came to the table.

The moment might have been awkward, but she deliberately chose to stay relaxed. She was not going to chicken out again. "It's a good thing we ate so well at our picnic." She observed.

"Indeed." He replied, waiting for her to sit before picking up his utensils. The silence between them while they ate was comfortable, both hungry enough that the meal occupied them. "How are your eyes feeling?" He inquired finally.

"Fine." She answered. "Good as new." She then chuckled at her own pun. "Did you see poor Data when I laughed at his pun?" She smiled, looked up.

The Captain laughed lightly. "He tries so hard to understand the nature of humor, then without even trying... " He broke off when he looked up at her, caught completely by the sparkle in her blue eyes.

The smile froze on Beverly's face as she looked at him. Had she ever noticed how green his eyes could get? He didn't break from her gaze. Something deep in her stomach seemed to flip-flop. Why had she denied this?

The silence stretched, both loathe to break the fragile moment. Eventually, he moved to clear the table. Wordlessly, she stood and brought her dish and cup to the recycler.

They turned to each other simultaneously. He hesitated. She stepped into him, placing her hands on his shoulders. His hands reached for her hips, pulling her against him. "I had a few bad moments there..." He muttered into her hair.

"I did too." She admitted.

Neither moved. "You were supposed to be in your quarters," he murmured, his voice uncharacteristically hoarse.

"I know I broke orders..."

"Thank God." he interrupted, sincerely, his voice slightly breaking again.

"Jean-Luc..." she pulled back from him, looked into his face, saw the shimmer of tears in his eyes. Without fear, without thought of consequences, she tilted her head and brought her lips to his.

He met her, gently at first, so softly and cherishing she felt as if her heart might break with it. When she moved her hand to the back of his neck, fingers finding the fringe of hair at the back of his head, he raised his own hand to her hair, grasping it, then releasing to let it flow through his fingers, then finding her scalp and the back of her neck.

She opened her mouth slightly, with a moan, at the feeling of his hand. He took full advantage and entered her mouth with his tongue. Everything changed in that instant. The taste of him, the feel of him... she was swept away beyond anything she had imagined. It was just so right. Need coalesced deep in her belly.

His hand on her back slid lower, just to the top of her buttocks, bringing her even closer to him, until there was no space between them. She knew from dancing with him that they were a good fit. She never imagined what a perfect fit they were. Her free hand moved from his shoulder, desperate for contact, she found her way up under his t-shirt, coming to rest against his ribs. He reciprocated, his hand sliding up from her bottom, under her sweater. He groaned finding her back bare of any bra.

She felt the change in him instantly. His kiss went from coaxing to soothing. His hand on her back stilled its restless caress. She slowed her own frantic touches. He pulled back from their kiss, but kept her close with his arms. He leaned his forehead against hers. She caught her breath, eyes closed. She would die if he changed his mind now.

"I don't want you to get the wrong idea..." He started. She opened her eyes, to see the crinkles of a smile in his. "But we've both had a very... trying... couple of days. When we make love, I do not want there to be any chance of regrets."

She started to pull away, he wouldn't let her. Nor would he let her misinterpret his intentions. "Let me just hold you right now, while we sleep." His lips found her temple, her hairline. Her heart melted and her soul caught fire. She should never underestimate this man.

With no more words, he pulled away from her. Letting his hand slide down her arm to grasp her hand, he led her to his bedroom. He rummaged in a drawer and handed her a long, v-necked shirt. She took it and retired to the bathroom. He was under the covers when she came back out, and he had second thoughts about waiting when he saw her in HIS shirt, vast expanses of leg uncovered, a hint of cleavage exposed. He lifted the blankets for her, and she slid in next to him.

Facing him, she once again let her fingers trace the lines of his face, reveling in the freedom to do so. His changeable eyes were gold-rimmed-green. His features were open to her, hiding nothing. She saw longing and relief and appreciation.

Unmistakeable love.

"How could I have been so wrong?" She whispered. He trapped her fingers against his lips, gently tasting them.

"You weren't wrong, you were just scared." There was no recrimination in his voice.

"I was scared of the wrong thing." A sad smile lifted her lips. He adjusted their positions, gathering her against him. She rested her head on his shoulder, her hand straying to rest on top of his shirt, just above his belly. He boldly lowered his hand to the back of her thigh, pulling her leg up, against his own. Perfectly fitting them together like pieces of a puzzle.

He rested his face against the top of her head.

Peace filled her. Peace like she had not known, perhaps ever. "I love you, you know." She whispered. Her fingers making idle circles against his chest. "I have, for a very long time."

"And I, you." His arms tightened around her, as if he were afraid she would leave now.

"I'm sorry..." she started. But he stopped her.

"No. No regrets." His lips again found her temple. "We've found each other now, that is what matters."

A tear slipped from her eye. How could a man so in control of his emotions be so gentle? So understanding of her own chaotic emotions? No, no regrets. She was exactly where she wanted to be. His steady breathing lulled her to sleep.

Captain Picard woke completely, as was his habit. He felt surprisingly well rested. He also felt-unsurprisingly, considering his position-aroused.

They had shifted in sleep, onto their sides, her back to his front. He found the Doctor's backside pressed enticingly into his groin. Her head tucked beneath his chin. In sleep, his hand had found a resting place under her shirt, on her breast.

He had two choices: he could pull away, and wake her, or he could wake her, and not pull away.

For long moments he just lay, basking in the delicate torture of the scent of her, the feel of her against him. He had waited a lifetime, it seemed, for this. He had almost lost the chance of it more than once. No more. No regrets.

Finding a patch of bare neck where her hair parted in the back, he let his lips discover her skin. He knew she was awake when he felt her unmistakeable push into the intimate grasp of his hand on her chest.

"Mmmm" She purred. "Good morning?"

"Indeed." he murmured into the space behind her ear, causing a shiver to start at that spot, but continue deliciously down her spine.

Nothing had prepared her for waking in his arms, in his bed. His scent surrounded her, his strength encompassed her.

Languorously, she stretched, deliberately pushing against him. Delighting in her power over him. When he lifted his lips from their task, she turned, to face him.

"We are not tired any more." She said, quite seriously.

"No, we are not." He replied.

"The ship is in capable hands?" She asked.

"It is."

"You are not due on the bridge until tomorrow morning?" Her eyes were impossibly dark cobalt.

"I am not." His face was still an open book to her. She saw hope light his features, tempered with caution. Oh, how she had hurt him. She closed the space between them, and touched her lips to his.

"Then, my Captain, I think there is nothing to regret..." Another soft kiss, her hands sliding up under his t-shirt, her knee insinuating itself between his legs. "Unless..."

He held his breath-to come so far-he would die if she ended this now. He would honor her choice, but he would die...

"Unless," She repeated, "we don't learn from past regrets." She nipped lightly at his lower lip, her hands becoming quite busy.

For once, Fate shone upon them. With internal communications still down, there were no questions to interrupt the Captain. The Doctor was still off duty another day, there was no crisis demanding her presence. No virus mutated that day, no storm gathered. The Enterprise continued limping toward a starbase for repairs.

The powers of the Universe had finally done their duty and brought these two together. For a few hours, the only turbulence was behind the closed doors of the Captain's cabin.