Lady of the Lake.

Shep stumbled out of the meeting room awkwardly, but once he was out, he bolted, as if chased by something. He ran up a flight of stairs and stopped in the darkened hallway. Leaning against the wall, he gasped for breath and sunk to floor, hunching over. He shut his eyes and threw his back sadly. He hated this.

He didn't want this to be forever, hiding in the darkness. He heard Barbara's word, tumbling around in his head. He'd told the truth when he'd said he was just trying to live, but Barbara's words were true, too. Everyone just wanted to live. That's what being free was.

"I thought this would make me free," he whispered to himself, his voice cracking, twisted with painful tears. He was surprised that he was crying. He hadn't cried for years. Even when he'd been in Switzerland, at the absurdly priced clinic that had allowed him to become a man away from prying eyes, he hadn't cried. He hadn't cried when he walked from his old life, re-entering the country with an equally insanely priced new identity. He'd wanted to cry when he was there, for Kia, and for so many other things. For killing himself in a way, and for the joy of being born anew, but he hadn't been able to. It'd been as though his tear ducts had ceased to exist.

But he was crying now. For himself. He'd born anew, only to watch himself die again. Lucia Shepton was dead, in an accident during a vacation in Switzerland. Fraudulent documents supported this, but no one knew they were a fraud, just like no one knew that her cousin, Lucien Shepton, born in Switzerland, was equally fraudulent. His parents had paid insane amounts of money to ensure their child's happiness, and he felt as though he let them down every time he realized he wasn't happy.

He didn't know how it'd come to pass that Barbara was here. He knew Barbara; she'd been there with him. They'd gone through it together. Glimmers of recognition flashed in her eyes each time he saw her.

"She walked away," he murmured, still crying. "Lisa walked away." That hurt him the most. Watching the girl he loved more than anything walk out in an act of hate could rip a fellow up inside. Especially if he happened to be one of those people she hated.

It was enough to make a fellow hate himself.

He heard footsteps on the stairs and tried to shrink himself into a smaller ball, as though he could somehow avoid being seen. He hoped if anyone, it was Paul. He was disappointed to see Barbara. He stood up. He intended to leave, but his feet stuck to the ground.

"Shep," she whispered. Her voice was so soft and sweet. He couldn't help but smile. For someone who used to be a man, she was everything a woman should be. But he supposed, she never was a man, not really.

"Please go away," he said through his tears. "I can't…"

"Can't what?" she sighed. "No one's asking you to do anything." He didn't answer. She sighed again and spoke after a silence. "Look, Shep, I was wrong… I shouldn't have called you a coward." Shep didn't answer again. Barbara continued talking. "To be honest, I think you're very brave. You're the only person I knew who transitioned totally… who walked away from their old life and started a new one… filled with secrets. I couldn't do it. You're terribly brave for trying."

"I'm not brave," he said roughly. "You were right. I'm an awful coward." His voice grew angrier as he spoke. "I can't even stand up for myself. I hate myself."

She looked very sad as he spoke and took his hand. He marveled at how soft it was. "Don't. Every second you hate yourself, it hurts every one of us."

"I'm not strong enough to love myself for all of you." He looked away. "It was a dream, Barbara."

"What was?"

"That's the only way I can put it. Every second since I left. It's been a dream. Lisa loving me. That was a dream. Even right now, I can feel your hand. It's a dream though. I'm a ghost." He thought she was about to cry, but she was stronger than that and simply wiped his tears away. She was the strongest person she'd ever met.

"I died too," she said. "Barnabas T. Joule died in a car crash in Berlin, you know. But then I came back as Barbara… the same way you did, Shep. But you didn't have to let go of everything you were. You don't have to be a ghost." Her voice lowered. "You can still have all of yourself." She smiled. "Two years ago, I drove a car off a ditch, they think. But I was caught in midair, by an angel. She told me I could still have all of me. That Barbara was all of me."

"I'm not whole," he said, his voice hoarse from crying.

"But you're not broken either," she whispered. "You're just Shep."

"I don't even know who that is anymore," he whispered. "I'm lying. I'm lying to myself, I'm lying to my friends. I'm lying to the women I've been with, to the women I'm with. I'm lying to you, and to everyone. I'm living this lie that perpetuates itself."

"Yeah." Barbara nodded. "You're human." She let go of his hand. "You don't have to live a lie, Shep. You just have to live."

"That's so hard," he gasped.

Barbara nodded. She knew how hard it was. It was getting harder each day. She wanted him and herself and everyone like her. She wasn't able to. She knew.

"It shouldn't be," she whispered. "But it has to be. It's our fire, our souls. We shouldn't have to hide. But we do."

"How could I stop hiding?" he asked her. "I'm so scared of being found. And by the girl I love." The words slipped out. He loved Lisa.

"You can stop hiding," Barbara told him gently. "You just need to find a voice loud enough to step out."

"I don't have a voice anymore," he explained honestly. "I lost it a long time ago."

"Find it," she urged firmly.

"I wouldn't know where to start." He sunk back to the floor. "I wouldn't know what to say."

She knelt by him and touched his chest gently. "Shep, everything you need to say, is written in somewhere in your heart."

"I can't find it yet."

"You'll hear it someday, when you shut your eyes and listen hard. Shep…" Her eyes begged him for something. "Stand with us. We're better off together than we are alone."

"I'll lose Lisa." Barbara remained quiet. She was waiting for him to listen to his soul. "But I'll lose her anyway." He touched his eyes, brushing away the tears the glistened in his eyelashes. "It was a dream."

She stood and offered him her hand. He took it and she pulled him to his feet. "Someday, I promise," she said strongly. "We'll be able to wake up."

"I'll stand with you," he told her sadly. "But I can't have a voice yet. I'm not ready to wake up."

"Do what feels right, I won't push you."

"You might push me right out of my closet, Barbara," he replied. She shook her head.


He hugged her impulsively. "I just want to live," he said sadly.

She stroked his hair. "I know."