The sigh that emanated into the turbolift sounded pathetic even to me. As a Doctor, I recognized the persistently repetitive pattern of exhalation. What I was unwilling to recognize, to acknowledge, was the source. Was it grief or depression? Just fatigue?

I did not feel depressed. At least, not the way I had been after Jack died. I studied the floor, my scuffed duty boots, as my thoughts wandered. The insomnia was there, true, and I *did* tend to want to curl up with a book when off duty. But weren't we ALL entitled to some exhaustion after travelling hundreds of years back and forth through time, after defeating the Borg? After saving Earth? Or was it supposed to just be "all in a day's work."

The lift stopped. I went to step out, without looking up from the carpet pattern that so entranced me, and walked straight into a wall. A wall of maroon and black, a wall whose arms came up to steady me.

My head snapped up, apology on my lips, only to meet amused, familiar hazel eyes.

"Jea... Captain." I corrected myself. Using the Command title to protect my distance.

"Doctor." Something crossed his features I could not immediately identify. His hands lingered on my arms, even after I'd regained my balance, if not my composure. We stood, almost perfectly matched, his eyes just slightly above mine.

For a long moment, I just stood there. The fog that shrouded my mind lately seemed to obscure any words that might seem appropriate.

An eyebrow rose, "Are you all right, Beverly?"

My name, said in that velvet voice, enabled me to break out of my stupor. With only a minor pang of regret, I stepped half a pace back. If there seemed to be reluctance in him releasing his hold on my arms... I felt another sigh build and then escape.

I looked down, then to the side, anywhere but those mossy green eyes. "Just tired, Captain." I dared a peripheral glance, saw his frown.

"Beverly, we need to-" His communicator chirped, I sighed again, but this time it was relief, pure and simple. Taking full advantage of the distraction, I brushed by him, intent on my destination. Intent on escape. I did not turn back to see his reaction.

Hours later, two chirps announced someone at my door. I glanced at the time: 2313. I knew who it would be. He would know I would still be awake. Breath escaped with exasperation. "Come," I issued, without enthusiam.

Perversely, I did not rise to greet him. I stayed, curled on the corner of the couch. I had just the one overhead lamp on, a warm halo to read by. I drew my leg up in front of me, arms wrapping around it. Then I was disgusted with the obvious protective gesture, he would notice.

But it was too late. He had come in. He ventured as far as the other side of the coffee table. He did not sit. I did not offer it. He stood just outside the circle of light.

"We need to talk." Rather than the confident command tone I had expected, his voice was soft, tentative. Almost breaching my isolation.

"About what?" I tried not to let him pull at me. I knew full well I had been horrible to him the past four days.

"About whatever it is... I've done... or not done... that has upset you." He sounded tired. As tired as I felt.

"I'm not upset." I was proud of how mildly uninterested I kept my voice. I picked a tiny piece of lint off the knee of my leggings.

"Well, you could bloody well have fooled me." The words were cross, causing me to look at him. But I could not see him, in the darkness. I could only see his outline, the dark uniform, straight shoulders.

I could not consciously stop myself from pulling my other leg up. When I realized what I had done, I rested my chin on my knees, trying to appear as if that was what I meant to do; trying to appear casual.

Trying to hide the gnawing ache in my stomach.

"You've missed breakfasts since we... we've been 'back.' " There was need in his voice. It caused more roiling in my gut. I tightened the arms wrapped around my legs.

"It's been busy." That was true enough. So why did it sound so flimsy?

"Too busy to share one meal?" I was glad I could not see his eyes. The hurt I knew was there would be my undoing.

He walked into the small circle of light then. Without permission or invitation, sat next to me on the couch. I did not change position. He sat lightly, angled sideways.

"What is it, Beverly?" His fingers brushed the hair off my cheek, tucking it behind my ear. The feel of his fingertips on my face, just behind my ear, sent a shiver through me. I closed my eyes.

"I don't... I can't... " I buried my forehead onto my knees, horrified at the tears pushing at my eyelids. This was so unprofessional. Where was my clinical detachment? My sense of Duty? Where had my strength gone?

How could I explain to him something I could not even explain to myself?

I avoided sleep, was perfectly content with my insomnia. Because sleep brought the nightmares. The problem was, they were only half dream. The other half was memory.

Memory of the first time. The time we almost did not win. The time I left him there, abandoned him to them. The time he almost did not come back, and when he did... Oh, God. When he did...

I felt his hand on my back. I tried to block the sensation of his warm touch, the beloved, familiar weight of his palm.

How *could* he have gone back for Data?

How could he not have...?

Anger surged, pushing up my throat like bile. I tried to shrug his hand off me, but without lifting my head, my gesture was ineffectual.

Futile. The word shuddered through me, filled with vile enmity.

I wanted to kill them. What had happened to me? I wanted to kill every one of them, to wipe them out of the Universe. Myself. I had relished the feel of the phaser rifle in my hands.

I hated what they had made me become. I hated myself for wanting to harm, to kill. For agreeing with Jean-Luc that killing those assimilated was the greater kindness. For losing every value and moral ideal I had trained for and lived for.

I hated him for his idealism, his loyalty and devotion. I hated myself for throwing that all away when it was within my grasp. I hated Lily, passionately, for convincing him when I could not.

I hated my weakness.

I hated my need.

I felt his hand in my hair. He always loved my hair. He always loved... I clenched against the thought. My jaw hurt from the tension of not screaming.

"Beverly..." His voice was soft, so soft. So full of infinite patience.

I could not face him. I could not see my way around the immense wall of hate I had constructed brick by angry brick from the moment he said the Borg were back.

"You wouldn't let me speak to you..." He started, tentatively. "When we located the escape pods... you were so busy, you wouldn't give me the time to tell you..."

He was right. I was too angry-an anger with no focus, just a swirling mass that engulfed my being-I was afraid to speak to him. I was afraid of myself.

When I did not respond, he continued, his hand absently sifting through my hair all the while. "I wanted to thank you."

He waited, then went on. "When you followed my orders... It was the very fact that my crew was willing to follow my orders to the death, which brought me around to changing my mind.

I drew oxygen into my lungs, not realizing I had forgotten to breathe. He tucked the hair falling around my face behind my ear again. I turned my head, to rest my cheek on my knee. His face, his face that was so dear to me, was filled with sorrow, and pride, and... hope?

His eyes held mine. They seemed fathomless. "We will never be conquered, we will never be obliterated, as long as we have that kind of faith, and hope."

The tears that had not fallen once since the first night, alone in my dark quarters, after he had announced he could hear them... finally pushed beyond my carefully constructed control. His hand, so strong, so capable, cupped my jaw, his thumb catching the first fat drop and wiping it to the side.

"Oh, Beverly, what have I done to you?" The longing in his countenance began to melt some more of the icy control.

Helplessly, I nodded. I did not have words. His hand still cradled my face.

"You saved me from them the first time. You saved me from myself this time. Let me help you." The last words were just a whisper.

The admission, and the plea, combined to crumble the impenetrable wall that had kept me functioning. Without even knowing how I got there, I found myself in his arms, against his chest, burrowed into him. My hands pressed against his warmth, finally letting myself believe that his heart beat, his breath expanded his lungs.

The tears had magnified into sobs. I could not stop once it started. All I could do was hang on to him. He wrapped me in his embrace, letting the storm work itself through.

As the sobs subsided to watery sniffles, I began to notice where I was. I was in his lap, wrapped around him. As intimate as a lover. Crossing a line we had never crossed.

For the life of me, I could not come up with any good reason why we had not crossed it. My old fears just seemed foolish in light of the past week. He was here, alive, in one piece-all his own-and I had been given yet another chance. How many more chances do I get? Even a cat only has nine lives...

A new fear occurred to me: what if he did not want me any more? What if I had waited too long? I tentatively reached my hand to his face, cradling his jaw. He turned, and his lips branded my palm.

I turned more fully, aware of his lap beneath me, I moved my other hand to his shoulder, looking into his face. A dark smoldering in his eyes sparked an ache deep in my womb. One of his hands traced the line from my jaw to the shoulder left bared by my sweater. His clever, clever thumb dipped to delineate my collarbone.

Encouraged, I turned fully bringing my leg around to straddle his lap. Both of his hands came to my face. He cradled me with such reverence I felt fresh tears.

"I want you dearly... " his normally velvet voice was rough with need that coiled within my chest, "but I do not want... to take advantage."

The last White Knight I thought. I did not refute him, rather, I reached forward to meet his lips with mine. Softly, at first, the familiar, light kiss we had shared in the past... Finding no resistance, I pressed in, deeper, inviting him...

With a groan, his gentlemanly resolve crumbled.

With just a kiss, we began what we had waited a lifetime for.