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Author's Chapter Notes:
This chapter takes place between episodes 1x05 and 1x06 of Dollhouse. There's a reason why Claire is so defensive when Boyd suggests that Victor has hurt Sierra -- "There’s a difference between being attracted to someone and hurting them."
DeWitt had only just completed a meeting with a few members of the team to discuss vital statistics, upcoming engagements and a host of other such little fiddly effluvia that one had to concern themselves with if they wanted to keep their job as head operational manager. The handlers and trainers had just been filing out as Topher sauntered in, a file folder held in one hand and a humorless smirk on his face.

“We've got a problem,” he announced.

DeWitt looked up, a bit startled, though her expression didn't give anything away. Rather, she arched her eyebrow at him, head tilting a little. “Do we?” She asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Topher replied as he approached the long, carefully polished boardroom table. Opening the file folder, he bent the cover back on itself and sent the file, contents and all, gliding along the tabletop towards her where she sat at the end.

Her hand shot out and came to rest lightly on the folder, stopping its progress and redirecting it, sliding it over to herself as she put her glasses on once again, peering at the print-outs. “What am I looking at here? Some new sort of test you're developing?” She asked, squinting.

“Oh, I wish it was something that awesome,” Topher said with a huff of rueful laughter. “No. See, your new favorite? She's got skeletons. As a matter of fact, she's got a whole graveyard. Plus some ghosts and poltergeists. Maybe some ectoplasm, too.”

“Topher, what on earth are you talking about?” DeWitt asked as she lowered her glasses and lifted her head, shooting him an exasperated look. She waggled her glasses at the print-out. “What is this?”

“Well, after that talk we had in the training wing, I went back and did a little research of my own on Shane McCutcheon,” he replied, rubbing his palms together for a moment before stuffing his hands into his back pockets. “Turns out – Google's my friend, too. In this day and age, what happens on the internet stays on the internet and you should always use whatever tools you have at your disposal to make sure you've got all your bases covered.”

What am I looking at, Topher?” DeWitt asked crossly, eyes narrowing.

“As best I can tell? It's a, uhh... a proximity matrix. Sort of,” Topher replied, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, visibly uncomfortable. DeWitt could swear his ears were turning red.

“Proximity?” DeWitt frowned as she picked up the folder and peered more closely at the print-outs. “These are names. Mostly women. But --” Her eyes caught on something and widened ever so slightly as the pieces clicked into place. Shane's name was printed there on one of the sheets and there were dozens of small, black lines connecting her name to dozens of others and those names, in turn, were individually connected to their own sets of names. “Wait...”

“Yeah,” Topher said quietly, ducking his head. “It's a site called OurChart. It's a place where people – mostly, uhh, mostly lesbians – name their sexual partners and track connections between them. It's really incredible, when you think about it. Thousands of people, scattered all over California and the states and ... the world, maybe, and everyone they've ever slept with, somehow, they're connected to another name on that chart and that name is connected to another and another. They're all connected to each other in this... web. Kinda like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon gone global.”

“And this is recent? These charts?” DeWitt asked, a thoughtful twist to her lips as she slipped her glasses back on. She sat up, placing the folder on her desk and leaning over it, eyes following the lines from name to name to name.

“Hot off the printer as of fifteen minutes ago,” Topher confirmed. “The matrix itself is dynamic. People are adding names to it and making connections to others constantly.”

“This is...” DeWitt began quietly, lightly tapping her finger on her desk. “An interesting development. To say the least.”

“That's why I brought it up to you as soon as I found out,” Topher replied, stuffing his hands into his pockets. “I mean, don't you think that... well, won't this make her job working as an anonymous agent a tad difficult if every lesbian in West Hollywood knows her face?”

Licking her lips, DeWitt closed the file folder and sat back in her seat. “We can limit her engagements to clients who prefer discretion. Nothing out in the field that might put her at a... disadvantage.”

“Yeah.” A ragged laugh was startled out of Topher at that. “'Cause you don't want to bump into any of the twelve hundred women you've slept with while you're working that espionage tip.”

“It's not for us to judge, Topher,” she said tiredly, one hand lifting to gingerly massage a spot between her eyebrows. “We knew, going in, that she had history. She just... has quite a bit more of it than we anticipated. That's all.”

Topher eyed DeWitt skeptically. “That's all?”

“That's all,” she said, lowering her hand and letting it settle atop her other hand as she looked up at him. Her expression was cool, collected. “Romantic engagements and engagements outside of the city only. For now.”

Lips pursing, Topher looked down, slowly nodded. “Got it.”

--

Saunders gingerly stepped through the heavy emergency door, the soles of her shoes crunching on the gravel and grit underfoot as she set foot onto the roof of the Dollhouse complex. She'd never been up there, before, and was startled at the breadth and scope of the view that the centrally-located building provided.

The majority of the complex itself was underground, with numerous false-front businesses filling the offices of the high-rise at ground level and above, leaving the Dollhouse itself buried underneath the earth like a bunker – no windows, no daylight, no fresh air that didn't come from the A/C scrubber.

It could be a stifling existence, but Saunders found herself wondering, suddenly, why it had never occurred to her to come up here, herself.

It only took her eyes a moment to adjust to the waning daylight - the sky a fading gold overhead, shaded in purples and deep rose tones as the sun sank beneath the horizon – and she smiled a little to herself as she located the person she'd come up to the roof to find.

Shane stood at the edge of the roof, not staring down but rather looking out at the ever changing hues of the sky and at the sun as it set. Her hands rested lightly on the broad marble ledge and everything about her body seemed utterly quiescent and relaxed.

“I thought you might want one of these,” Dr. Saunders said as she slipped up behind Shane. She pulled out a fresh, unopened pack of Marlboro Reds and a lighter from her pocket and held them out to her with a small smile. “To celebrate.”

Head whipping about in surprise, Shane found Dr. Saunders standing there and her eyes darted down. She chuckled as she reached out and took the offered cigarettes and lighter and held them in her hands, staring down at them pensively. “Thanks,” she said quietly. Opening the pack, she pulled out a cigarette and fitted it between her lips. She looked up and over at Saunders, brows creasing a little. “Oh -- d'you mind?”

“No, go right ahead,” Saunders said, smile widening a little as she turned her attention to the view that Shane had been admiring when she'd approached her. “You could have gone anywhere for your last day. Mr. Gillette told me that Ms. DeWitt gave you leave. Why didn't you?”

“There's nowhere I wanna go,” Shane replied simply as she sparked the lighter and held the flame to the end of her cigarette. A few quick puffs to get it going and then one long, deep drag to fill her lungs. “Nobody I need to see. I already said my goodbyes.”

“But why did you want to come up here?” Saunders asked softly, eyes straying over to where Shane was gazing out over the city, her expression strangely serene.

“The contracts are signed and initialed and now they've got the board's stamp of approval. It's all a done deal. I guess I just... wanted to see something beautiful before I go,” she whispered. “You know, I – I thought that when I finally heard their answer it would make me feel even more scared. Because I know what's coming next? But... the closer and closer it gets, the quieter it is inside.”

“And that's a bad thing?” Saunders asked, eyebrows knitting together, lips twisting into a perturbed frown.

“It's supposed to hurt,” Shane replied, her throat working as she swallowed around the knot in her throat, her tone almost accusing. “You told me it would. It should hurt.”

“Why?” She asked, startled.

“I have to – I have to be punished,” she whispered, lower lip trembling ever so slightly, eyes glistening with tears as she looked out over the city. “This is the only way I can ever make it up to her.”

“Do you think that she'd want you to suffer this way?” Saunders replied, a distinctly skeptical edge to her words.

“No. She wouldn't. That's why I have to. Because I broke my promise and now I have to deal with the consequences.”

“But these didn't have to be the consequences, Shane. You chose this for yourself.”

“I can't stay in this world, knowing she's not here, Doc,” Shane whispered, voice choked, a tear slipping from the corner of her eye to go rolling down her cheek. “It's too much. Without her, it's all just too much. One day without her was too long -- how am I supposed to go for the rest of my life? Knowing that...” Shaking her head, Shane sniffled, reaching up to hastily wipe at her eyes with the heel of her hand. “Right now, I'm on life support. All I'm doing is biding my time, waiting for someone to do me a fucking favor and just pull the plug, already.”

“I can't even... begin to imagine what that must feel like,” Saunders said softly, feeling an aching tightness in her chest as she gazed at Shane. “The way you talk about her, it's like she was your soul mate.”

“She was my soul,” Shane corrected her, breath hitching in her chest even as she brought her cigarette to her lips for another drag, tears streaming down her face. “I just don't wanna do this, anymore. Not without her. So I'm not. I don't have to.” A low, weak chuckle rumbled in her chest. “I kinda feel like the luckiest person in the world. 'Cause I get something not many people do: the chance to decide how I get to go out. Does that makes me sound crazy?”

“I don't think it makes you sound crazy,” she replied evenly. “You've made your decision and it's what you feel is right. There's nothing crazy about that.” Shane simply nodded, sniffing a bit as she wiped at her tears with the flat of her palm. “What was her name?”

“Jenny,” Shane said quietly. She drew herself up, inhaling a deep, deep breath and letting it out again in a long sigh. “Jennifer Diane Schecter. She was 25.”

“So young,” Saunders whispered, a pained expression settling into place on her scarred features as she looked back out over the city.

“Isn't all of this already in my file?” Shane asked, eyes cutting over to peek at Saunders and narrowing slightly.

“It is,” Saunders confessed. “But it's different, seeing facts and dates and names printed on a piece of paper in somebody's file and hearing it from their own lips, in their own words.”

“Isn't that a little... troublesome... in your line of work?” She asked, still staring steadily at Saunders. She tilted her head inquiringly. When the doctor looked over at her, noticeably confused, Shane elaborated. “I mean, you're supposed to be caring for these people and helping them when they get hurt, right? Doesn't it... make it harder for you? Knowing all those things about them and then seeing them wind up like Echo?”

“You met Echo?” Saunders asked, blinking a little in surprise.

“Yeah,” Shane said with a soft chuckle as she turned her gaze back to the sunset. “When I was on my way over to Topher Brinks's office with those files you gave me.” The hint of amusement in her smile faded a little. “But does it? Does it make it harder?”

“I --” Saunders began, brows creasing as she frowned, eyes sliding away to stare out at the street lights switching on below. “I never thought about it.”

“It would make it harder for me,” Shane admitted, stubbing her cigarette out on the bottom of her pack, fitting the cold butt into the pack before drawing a fresh cigarette out. “Seeing them when they're normal people and knowing things about them, their lives, what they're like... and then seeing them like that, but... I guess she had her reasons. Right? Like I have mine.”

“They all had their reasons, Shane,” Saunders said quietly, wrinkles on her brow smoothing a bit, a barely perceptible undertone of sadness and compassion winding through her words.

“At least, this way, it'll help people,” she said, breath and smoke leaving her lungs in a heavy sigh as she rested her elbows on the ledge in front of her, hands loosely folded together, cigarette seeping smoke between them, white-gray wisps slipping between her fingers and curling towards the sky. “They get what they need; I get what I need. Everybody's happy.”

--

“Now that that's settled, was there anything else that you wanted to talk to me about?” DeWitt inquired even as she gathered up the file folder Topher had passed over to her, preparing to close it.

“Uhh, yeah, there's one more thing,” Topher hedged, shifting his weight from one foot to the other again. “Something else you should see. It's after the print-outs.”

Casting Topher a withering glower, DeWitt tossed the folder onto the table, opened it again and began flipping through the pages inside. Ten pages in, past the print-outs of the strange proximity matrix Topher had been telling her about, and then her breath caught on a gasp as her fingers seized on page eleven, lifting it from amidst the other print-outs there. “God in heaven,” she murmured softly.

“Yeah,” Topher said, rather unhelpfully. “It was a nation-wide advertising campaign for Hugo Boss about a year and a half ago. We're talkin' coasters, posters, full-size billboards, magazines, tie-in movie promotions -- the whole shebang.”

“Were there any more of these?” DeWitt asked as she looked up. She turned the page around and held it up so that Topher could see what she was referring to.

It was a full-page ad, the ragged edge along the left-hand side of the glossy stock paper making it obvious that it had been torn from some sort of magazine. Shane stood in front of a blue-gray marbled stucco background, naked but for a pair of white, y-front briefs, head cocked at a defiant angle, though her expression was strangely impassive. Her hands were curled into loose fists and one fist covered each of her small breasts, obscuring her nipples from view. Though it didn't do much to lend any sort of modesty to the photograph, since everything else – from her lean, muscled arms to her toned stomach – was on bold display.

“As far as I can tell? No. It was just the one ad. It just wound up everywhere. Checking around on the marketing forums and blogs around that time, it sounds like it was a pretty popular campaign. I had Ivy do some calling around and she wasn't able to find any agency information for it, though,” Topher replied, reaching up to scratch at the back of his head. “So that means she didn't have any representation. This looks like it was just a one-shot deal.”

“She never mentioned it,” DeWitt replied distractedly as she turned the page back around, her free hand lifting to her mouth, the side of her index finger brushing over her bottom lip, a pensive expression settling into place on her aristocratic features. “I wonder why that is.”

“Embarrassed, maybe? Hard to say,” he said with a shrug. “If you ask me, the whole thing doesn't really seem like her shtick.” When DeWitt lifted her head and searched his face, he held up both hands yieldingly. “Not that... I know what her shtick is or am, in any way, insinuating that I do know what her shtick is. She just...” Trailing off, he sighed, shoulders slumping a little. “She just doesn't seem like the type. That's all.”

DeWitt hummed in acknowledgement, eyes tracing over Shane's features as they stared back at her from the magazine page. “No, she doesn't,” she agreed quietly. Inhaling a deep, slow breath, she placed the page back into the folder and closed it, sliding it back over to Topher with a distasteful wrinkle of her nose. “For now, my decision holds: discreet romantic engagements outside of Los Angeles. You also might want to do some research to find out just how far this... campaign... reached and formulate a list, so that we have a better idea of her operating area. We should avoid any urban areas with a high level of concentration for this hideous advertisement, for the time being.”

“Gotcha,” he said, scooping up the folder from the table top as it reached him. “And speaking of our supermodel... uhhh, where is she, right now?” Tilting his head, he aimed a narrow-eyed look of curiosity at her.

Sighing to herself, DeWitt sat up straight in her chair, folding her hands together on the table in front of her. “Upstairs,” she replied. “The word came down this afternoon: the board has given her the green light. You should begin making preparations for her tissue mapping and wipe in the morning...”

“Oh,” Topher said, head bowing as his lips pursed into a firm line. “So she's...”

“Yes,” DeWitt confirmed quietly. “She's not being monitored, but I'm confident that she can be trusted. Considering where she asked to go, it's unlikely she'd try to make a break for it, now.”

“Do we tell 'em?” Topher asked, half-heartedly lifting the folder he held in his hand.

“I don't see what difference it would make, Topher,” she said primly as she sat back in her chair, hands folding in her lap, elbows resting comfortably on the arms of her cozy executive chair. “We've dealt with more volatile and conspicuous volunteers than Shane. She's just a bit more conspicuous than was anticipated.”

“What did she say when you told her the news?” Topher asked, eyebrows furrowing a bit.

“She said... 'thank god',” DeWitt said softly, her smile strained and distinctly rueful as she tapped her right index finger against the back of her hand. “I've never seen someone look so pleased.” There was a beat, her eyes slanted off to one side, a pensive glint in them. “Before you do her wipe tomorrow, I want you to incorporate her scans into the id matrix. I meant what I said: I think she has certain qualities that could prove to be invaluable to us.”

“As good as done, Capitan,” he said, lifting his right hand in a jaunty, dutiful salute. “Have you given any thought to what her new name will be? Who did you pick for her handler?”

“Well,” DeWitt began, leaning her head on her hand, ironic amusement winding through her tone. “Considering the information you've shared with me today... Romeo seems... awfully fitting, don't you think?”

“Uhh... heh, yeah, I guess,” Topher said, aiming a wry smile at her. “So have you decided on a handler for her, yet?”

“Not yet,” she replied, giving her head a brief shake. “I thought I'd gather a few of the vets and allow them to sit in on her exhibition so they can see what they'd have to work with.”

“Ugh, the exhibition,” Topher grumbled with a grimace. “No matter how many times I do one of these, I always forget about that part. Maybe it's because my brain remembers what a drag it is and purposefully blocks it out so that I don't just quit.”

“Be that as it may,” DeWitt started, flashing him a forcefully serene smile, “she should be ready for her exhibition day after tomorrow. Bring Jupiter with you when you come.”

Topher's eyebrows shot up along with the rest of his head as he looked up at DeWitt, obviously surprised. “But I thought you said --”

“There's nothing wrong with letting her stretch her wings a little,” DeWitt replied, her own shoulders drawing up a bit as she stretched her arms out in front of her, muscles tensing for a few moments before she let out a breath and allowed her muscles to slacken again. “She'll do just fine. It might even remind some of the handlers that there's more to this than romance and melodrama. Those are the easy engagements, but they aren't all easy.”

“Should I go and ...?” Topher began, shifting his body a little and gesturing to the door.

“Give her a little while longer,” she said, giving her head a slight shake. Her expression was almost somber as she closed the file folder, placed it atop her stack of folders and binders and gathered the lot up into her arms. “It's not every day that you get to see a sunset, knowing that it will be the last one.”

--

There was barely a sliver of the fierce orange sphere peeking out from the lip of the horizon, the brilliant streaks of fuchsia and yellow having made way for pale blueish gray, fingers of night time stroking their way over the sky.

Shane and Dr. Claire Saunders had long since stopped paying attention to the horizon or the city or the view or the sunset or the sky. They stood facing one another, Shane grasping Saunders's arms in a secure but gentle grip, their faces – their lips - scarcely five inches apart from each other. Shane's breath was ragged, shallow, and strained as it feathered over Claire's slightly parted lips, her fingers tightening on Claire's biceps, as though she wasn't sure whether she wanted to pull her closer or push her away.

Claire stood rooted to the spot, eyes searching Shane's face as she gazed up at her, her expression open and anxious and exhilarated all at the same time. Her hands rested lightly on Shane's hips, face turned up so that she could study her, silently trying to put a name to the emotions flickering in Shane's dark eyes and coming up mystified.

“You're shaking,” Claire whispered, something in the back of her throat catching, making it feel painfully dry and forcing her to swallow. In spite of herself, her bottom lip quivered, just for a moment.

“I can't do this,” Shane whispered back, eyes lowered and leveled on a spot somewhere beyond Claire's left shoulder.

“Do what?” She asked, her eyebrows knitting together. She leaned to one side, tilting her head a bit in an effort to meet Shane's gaze, but Shane purposefully, almost determinedly, averted her glance.

“What I always do,” she said softly, fingers tightening around Claire's arms for a moment before she finally released her, drawing her hands back as though they burned just from touching her. Letting her hands drop to her sides, she turned away from Claire, rubbing her hands against the soft knit cotton of the track pants covering her thighs. “It's not right and I don't wanna make trouble for you.”

“What were we doing?” Claire asked, doing her best to sound confused, clueless. Innocent.

“I haven't read the entire rule book, yet, but if I had to guess, I'd say there's probably a rule against it,” Shane replied ruefully, leaning her elbows on the ledge as she fitted another cigarette between her lips and lit it. “And even if there wasn't... it doesn't change the fact that my girlfriend died three weeks ago.”

“Shane, I'm sorry, I – I didn't mean to...” Claire sputtered, hands fidgeting at her sides before she finally slipped them into the pockets of her lab coat. “I sincerely apologize if I did anything that made you feel uncomfortable.”

Eyes closing for just a moment, Shane shook her head silently. She took a couple of puffs on her cigarette and then a longer drag, opening her eyes again as she stared out at the city scape spread out in front of her. When she finally pulled the cigarette out from between her lips, she licked them briefly before speaking at last. “I just don't want to leave with any unfinished business,” she explained softly. “It'd be better for the both of us if this just never happens.”

“You're absolutely right,” Saunders said after an excruciating stretch of silence, her words sounding strangely brittle as she turned to face the ledge again, eyes searching outward and avoiding looking at Shane.

“But for what it's worth,” Shane began quietly, “that sunset wasn't the only beautiful thing I've seen tonight and... I'm grateful.”

“You don't mean that,” Saunders whispered, a barely perceptible tinge of bitterness creeping into her voice.

“No, I do. I really do, Claire,” she assured her, shoulders rolling back and square as she drew in a deep, deep breath. Her head lolled back on her shoulders, eyes pointed to the stars as she smiled. “Cross my heart and hope to die.”
Chapter End Notes:
"Disturbia" by Rihanna - 'Romeo is Bleeding' theme song.

"Pretty Buildings" by People In Planes - As Claire steps out onto the roof to find Shane there.

"It ain't kind and it ain't right
when you wore away the shine, what did you find?
still, you were say you're not afraid
to lay down your bones on the bed you've made

Someone made a sound and turned you right round
I wasn't cold enough to care
brother, I dared

See it tear you up and it calls your bluff,
when the lie that keeps you warm
is the truth you're counting on..."

"Bluff" by Pilot Speed - As Shane smokes her cigarette and cries.

"And I thought you had ruined it all
and I thought you were going to hell
and I thought I had ruined it all
and I thought I was living in hell

But I get it, now - yeah, I get it now

And they said that I had to be strong
And they said I should stick to the plan
And they said that it wouldn’t take long
And they said "just remember the plan"

And I get it, now
yeah, I get it, now

But sometimes, it gets a little cold inside
And I know you tried
yes, I know you tried

But they told me, they told me,
"Things aren’t always as they seem,"
they seem
And they told me, they told me,
I should just concentrate and breathe
breathe, breathe

And I thought I was doing okay
well, I thought you were doing so well
And I know you were doing okay
but I know there is that deep well
that you won’t look into,
no, you won’t look into

But sometimes, it gets a little cold inside
And I know you tried
yes, I know you tried

But they told me, they told me,
"Things aren’t always as they seem,"
they seem
and they told me, they told me,
I should just concentrate and breathe, breathe --

With little lungs I
breathe
with little lungs you
breathe
with little lungs I
breathe
with little lungs you
breathe
with little lungs I --

And I know you were doing okay, then
I know you were doing so well and
[You changed this all, you changed this all.] x2

And I didn’t reply to your letter 'cause,
no, I didn’t reply to your letter 'cause,
[I’m not here, yet] x2

With little lungs we
breathe [x16]
with little lungs we --"

"Little Lungs," by An Horse - As Shane pushes Claire away.

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