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Author's Chapter Notes:
Some memories are brought to the surface that Shane has trouble dealing with and Claire has an unexpected issue.
“Jen...”

She was standing at the edge of the balcony, before the gaping space where the structure had been left incomplete. There was nothing more than a simple length of nylon tape spanning the gap – tied to either post where the plank should be – the very tip-toes of Jenny's high-heeled shoes peeking over the edge of the landing. Seeing her standing there made something in the pit of Shane's stomach tighten but beyond that tiny twinge, she felt numb through and through.

Jenny turned, hands folded together at her stomach, almost as though she was feeling sympathy pangs of Shane's own tension. Her expression, though, was calm. Sad, but strangely serene.

“Shane,” she whispered, so very sweetly, a tiny smile forming on her glossed lips, her eye shining. Welcoming – always welcoming – but without that soft, sweet delight she almost always exhibited, these days, when she was near. “How are you?”

“I'm ... I'm --” Shane stammered, shaking her head a bit, hands held palm-up in front of her. Questioning, pleading, praying. Begging Jenny to make sense of this for her.

It was as if she knew. The way that Jenny's expression changed, it was as if she knew exactly what had happened and she understood. Her smile dimmed and faded and she ducked her head, looking down at her hands. Her lips pressed together into a tight line and she slowly nodded.

“Okay,” Jenny said softly, still nodding all the while. Under her breath, as though she was speaking to herself. “Okay.”

“Look -- Jen --” Shane began, uncertain of what she intended to say, but feeling the need – the damnable instinct – to say something. Because this was Jenny. It was still Jenny. Even after everything, it was still Jenny.

Jenny held up both hands in a silent entreaty for silence, head still smoothly shifting from side to side. “No. Don't. Don't do that,” she said, her voice quavering only slightly as she spoke, doing her best to keep her words even. Trying not to snap. Trying to sound determined. Like her heart wasn't breaking. “Okay? I don't want you to. I don't want you to do that.”

Shane's hands fell limply to her sides, head coming to hang deeply, chin nearly touching her chest as she stared down at the freshly stained wood just ahead of her on the landing.

“It's okay,” Jenny whispered and when Shane looked up, she could see Jenny folding her arms around her mid-section, hugging herself. Rather than shaking her head, now, Jenny was nodding – just as slowly as she'd been shaking her head before – but with just as much of the characteristic Jenny Schecter stubbornness that she'd come to know so very well. Her expression was that same determined frown but even as Shane watched, the corner's of Jenny's mouth twisted down sharply, her shoulders drawing up a little and beginning to shake as she started to cry. The word came out in a tearful rush, “I really think you should go inside, now. I put the tape on – the tape I made for Bette and Tina – everybody's probably inside watching it, now. I think you should go and join them and have fun. Okay?”

“Jenny --” Shane said, moving to take a step towards her, only to draw up short as Jenny held up her hand again.

“No! Please. Please, no,” Jenny managed, a soft sob escaping her as she clapped a hand over her mouth and turned away. “Please go inside and watch the video, Shane. Please.” Shane could see her shoulders shaking, could hear her breath hitching as she cried. After a moment, Jenny sniffled. “Go inside... I'll come back inside in a little while.”

Shoulders slumping, Shane nodded and turned to go, not saying another word. She heard a quick rustle of movement behind her. Jenny's dress. That ridiculous dress covered in thousands of ridiculous silver sequins. Jenny'd never looked more beautiful.

“Shane?”

Shane hovered in the doorway, but didn't turn around. She braced her hands on the door jamb on either side of her, clutching so hard her knuckles turned white. “Yeah?”

“I love you,” Jenny said very softly, voice strained with misery and sadness, as though she was having to force the words out. “I always will. And I'm gonna keep my promise: I'm always gonna be there for you.”

Shane very nearly turned around, then. She came so close to just turning around, grabbing Jenny up into her arms and holding onto her as tightly as she dared.

“Me, too,” she whispered numbly, the words a dry, barely audible rasp in her throat as she went back into the house, the sounds of Jenny's quiet sobs chasing her away.


--

Shane sucked in gulp after desperate gulp of air, every muscle along the length of her body taut like a bowstring and painfully so. She'd reflexively curled her fingers around the edges of the armrests and now every last joint in each finger – from the tips all the way to the joints where each finger met the palm of her hand – now ached deeply. Blinking unseeingly at the fluorescent panel, she gasped, fighting to catch her breath as she finally collapsed back into the halo chair, shivering uncontrollably.

“That's another year or two out,” Topher was saying to his assistant. A cute, petite little Asian chick with pigtails and funky street clothes and biker boots underneath her lab coat. He circled around to the drive bay and gingerly pulled out the searingly hot drive using the very tips of his fingers. “Ow! Ooh. Ahh, god! Hot potato! Ow, damn,” he grumbled as he hurriedly minced his way over to the bank of empty drive bays and slid the drive into the next available slot in the row beneath a piece of tape with the name 'McCutcheon, Shane' written on it.

For her part, Shane was still shivering and yet as she finally sank back into herself, became more aware of her surroundings, she could feel a sheen of sweat slicking her skin, chilling her to the bone as she trembled. If anything, rather than releasing the arm rests, she clung to them more tightly, tears springing into her eyes as she quickly clamped them shut again, her breathing quickening.

“Hey, Ivy? Can you do me a favor?” Topher was saying as he began running a diagnostic on the contents of the drive of memories he'd just captured from Shane's mind, eyes focused on a nearby monitor. He was speaking to the petite lab assistant garbed in a crisp white lab coat, her dark hair pulled back in braided pigtails.

“Yeah?” She asked.

“Can you get her some water or a paper bag or a cookie or a teddy bear or something so she doesn't explode or do something else really gross all over my chair?” Topher asked dryly, punching buttons on a panel beside the drive deck. “Pretty please with sugar and a cherry on top?”

“Right,” Ivy said, pursing her lips as she crossed over to a mini fridge in the corner. She retrieved a bottle of cold water and returned to the halo chair with it, tentatively leaning over Shane, whose eyes were still stubbornly pinched closed. “You should drink this,” she said quietly.

Shane drew in a sharp breath through her nose, eyes opening with startlment, streams of tears trickling from the corners of each of her eyes to land glistening in her hair. Finally releasing her death grip on the armrests, she began to sit up, only to have Ivy hold up a staying hand. She circled around to the control panel of the halo chair and punched a few buttons and Shane could feel the back of the mechanized seat being tilted up once again. As soon as the oiled gears of the seat came to a stop, Shane bolted up, wiping at her face hurriedly as Ivy stepped around the chair to hand her the bottle of water.

“Thanks,” Shane whispered, her voice little more than a pained croak as she twisted the cap off of the bottle and took a deep drink.

“You're welcome,” Ivy said softly, the sympathy evident in her words as she watched her, brows creased with concern.

Shane cast a quick, embarrassed glance at Ivy but she couldn't take the pitying look in her eyes. Lifting her head, she looked over at Topher, who had begun swearing at the drive deck – or, to be more specific, what the monitor screen hooked up to the drive deck was telling him. Whatever that was.

“What's wrong?” Ivy asked, confused, as she moved to join Topher at the monitor. Grateful for the momentary respite, Shane sighed, upending the bottle and pouring a bit of water into her cupped hand, which she splashed onto her face, rubbing away the sticky trails of drying tears.

“I can't believe it!” Topher was saying as he flicked a frustrated hand at the screen. “This can't be right. It doesn't make any sense. These drives hold six terabytes of memory. For most people, that's enough to hold two years of memories.”

“Right,” Ivy replied, narrowing her eyes at him as she looked at the screen. “That's standard. So?”

“So? So... this six terabyte drive holds exactly eight months of her memories,” Topher said, glancing back over his shoulder at Shane, jerking his chin at her, his tone almost accusing.

“So the drive's defective?” Ivy asked, hand settling onto her hip.

“No, it's not my drives! My drives are perfect. It's her! It's her brain!” Topher said as he turned back to Ivy, lowering his voice. “I don't know what the hell is on this drive, but whatever it is, eight months of it was all the drive could handle.”

“Here, let me see,” Ivy replied, nudging him out of the way of the keyboard so that she could bring up the information about the drive. “Wow, you're right. It's eight months, sixteen days. But here, look at the density patterns.”

“Yeah, I see,” he said with an annoyed grimace. “What's that supposed to mean?”

“She has a very good memory. It's all... almost picture-perfect vivid,” Ivy said softly, a faintly wondering tone to her words as she entered a few commands into the system. “It's like looking through a photo album.”

“Right...” Topher said expectantly, all but hopping in place for her to spit out the rest of her thought.

“Well, what happens when you take dozens of photos? They take up a lot of space. Hundreds and hundreds of pictures. This is everything, exactly as she remembers it. Everything.”

“So it's just memories? What's with the density ratio? It's through the freaking roof!”

“It's feelings. Everything has emotions attached to it and there're millions of them,” Ivy said, fingers tapping away at the keyboard as she pulled up a cross-section of the data. “Some of the memories are long – hours worth – but others last for just seconds. There are so many of those, scattered throughout the sample. The emotions are so intense, they're woven through every second of these memories. Like a psychic residue.”

“So she's got residue?” Topher asked, aiming a dubious look at Ivy. Her impassive stare was his answer and he sighed raggedly, raking a hand through her hair as he turned to look at Shane. “Okay, listen, you can mosey on back to the dorms. You're free to go until later.” Turning back to the monitor, he grumbled under his voice. “I'm gonna have to take apart some of these six-T drives and expand their capacity. At this rate, we'll go through hundreds of drives and won't even get as far as adolescence.”

Rolling her eyes, Ivy turned to look at Shane, who was rather wobbily trying to push herself out of the halo chair so that she could do as Topher had instructed, her elbows looking as though they might buckle and send her flopping back into her seat again. “Shane, do you need some help getting back to the dorms?”

“No, I – I got it,” she said softly, lips pale and pursed into a tight line as she tried to push herself up, legs falling slipping off of either side of the padded chair's leg rests, sneakers thumping against the carpeted floor. Letting out a soft grunt as she suddenly lost her traction and leverage, Shane sat down hard on the chair again, the water in the bottle she held tightly in her left hand sloshing about inside.

“No, here, it's okay – I'll call Dr. Saunders to help you,” Ivy said as she scurried over to a phone sitting on a desk nearby. Picking up the handset, she punched in the extension to Saunder's office before Shane even had a chance to take a deep enough breath to tell her that it wouldn't be necessary.

Shoulders slumping, Shane sighed as she watched Ivy calling Claire. Funny, how she had stopped thinking about the doctor as Dr. Saunders and had started thinking of her as Claire. Ivy spoke a few words into the phone, casting a quick look at her over her shoulder and offering her an encouraging smile.

“Okay, thanks, Doc,” Ivy was saying, “she'll be ready by the time you get here. Do you want me to... oh, okay. Cool. Mr. Gillette's coming with you? Okay, great. Thanks.”

“Fuck,” Shane muttered under her breath, reaching up to press the heel of her hand against her forehead, just over her right eye. She could feel the steady, sickening thud of a headache settling in at her temples and behind her eyes. Whether it was from the halo chair or something else, she wasn't sure, but she felt like hell.

“Shane?” Shane was startled to hear Claire's voice calling her name and she gave her head a little shake as she lifted her chin and lowered her hand from her face, finding Dr. Saunders standing there, staring at her with open concern. There was no way that Claire could have gotten from her office to Topher's lab that fast – what the fuck was wrong with her? “Are you with me?”

“Uhh, yeah. Yeah, I – I am,” she said quietly, nodding as she licked her lips, finding them parched. She took another deep drink of water from her bottle, only to find Claire leaning over her with a penlight, aiming it into her eyes.

“You had me wondering, there, for a second,” Claire said, a small smile curling her lips as she shone the light into Shane's left eye and then her right, the smile disappearing after just a moment. “Does your head hurt?”

“A little,” Shane admitted, nodding.

“Just a little?” Claire asked, eyes narrowing as she straightened up. She clicked her penlight closed and slipped it into her pocket.

“Okay, more than a little,” she conceded and ducked her head.

“Okay,” Claire replied, giving a brief nod as she glanced at Mr. Gillette who was waiting by the door. He crossed over to the chair, giving Shane a friendly pat on the shoulder. “Mr. Gillette and I will be helping you back to your room, but first we'll stop by my office and get you something for that headache, okay?”

“Do I have a choice?” Shane asked as she looked up at Claire warily.

“Not really,” she said smoothly, offering Shane a faintly sardonic smile as she shuffled around to Shane's right side and slipping her hand beneath Shane's arm to take a gentle hold of her elbow. “Here, let's get you to your feet and Mr. Gillette will help you outside. I wanted to talk to Mr. Brink and Ms. Yamahara for a moment. Okay?”

“Sure,” Shane said, nodding her head carefully as Claire and Gillette helped her up from her chair.

“You look like hammered shit, McCutcheon,” Gillette observed wryly. “You ain't wussin' out on us now, are ya?”

“No fuckin' way,” Shane said, muscles tensing a little as she drew herself up, leaning into Gillette's side even as she strained to look into his eyes, meeting them as steadily as she could manage right then.

“Good,” he said, giving a satisfied nod as he slipped his arm around her shoulders, giving her a chummy sideways hug. “C'mon, let's get you outta here.”

“Kay,” Shane murmured, head hanging wearily as Gillette guided her out of the lab.

Saunders waited until Gillette had shut the door before turning on Topher and his assistant. “What are you doing to her?” She demanded, frowning.

“What are you talking about? I'm doing what DeWitt told me to do! I'm getting her ready for her wipe and to do that I have to do a comprehensive map of her memories. It's procedure,” Topher explained, his tone sharp. “DeWitt wants her backed up on the id. So that's what I'm doing.”

“Her pupils were fully dilated,” Saunders shot back, aiming a glare at him.

“So?” Topher said with a careless shrug.

“I bet if I were to check her pulse, it would be going a mile a minute right now. She was terrified. What did you do?” Saunders asked, both hands settling on her hips.

“I told you! I didn't do anything out of the ordinary! I'm prepping her for wipe!” Topher said again, his tone harsh, now, and growing angrier by the second at being questioned. “I'm doing the same thing with her that I do for every last one of them. What, did you think these were all just one big teddy bear picnic with lollipops and cuddles? I'm digging into her brain and fishing out all of her memories! Some of them go easy, some of them go hard.”

“What would the scan have picked up that would cause her to come out of it in this state?” Claire asked, brows creasing as her eyes darted over towards the monitor that Topher and Ivy had been conferring over.

“Got me,” Topher said with another shrug of his shoulders. “It's different for everybody. This is just harder on her, I guess.” Reaching up, his fingers tapped at the monitor screen, dancing over it with practiced grace for a moment – the display blinking and flickering at his touches – and soon he was turning and pointing to a spot behind Saunders.

As she turned, she could see that the virtual map screen had been called up – a holographic display that showed everything on the monitor screen at about 400 times its original resolution, occupying a space of about six feet by five feet. The holographic projector rendered the deck monitor with crystal clarity, displaying the contents of the screen, including a 3-D rendering of Shane McCutcheon's brain. Crossing over to the hologram, Topher gestured at the strings of numbers running in a constant string in a smaller window beside the 3-D brain render, while the fingers of his other hand rubbed at his chin. “When we scan a person's mind for the OEM dupe decks, sometimes the memories are so deep that they have to be coaxed up into the short-term memory, here. The halo is programmed to do it automatically with the deeper memories, just to make the whole process faster.”

“OEM?” Saunders asked, glancing bewilderedly at Topher's back and then over at Ivy.

“Original equipment manufacturer,” Ivy supplied helpfully as she retrieved a file from the desk, opened it and began making notes. “It's a term used in regards to computers, referring to the original software or infrastructure of a system. In this case, he uses it to refer to the original pre-wipe memory architecture.” The blasť attitude they were displaying about the whole thing was starting to rub Claire the wrong way and she could feel her hackles rising.

“So...?” Saunders asked expectantly as she moved to stand next to Topher, peering up at the holograph searchingly. “The system does it automatically, but I have a feeling that's not all there is to it.”

“Some of the more... persistent memories can linger,” Topher confessed finally, shoving his hands into his pockets. “We don't know why. They just do. I've run test after test, but even as brilliant as I am, I can't understand why the memories get stuck like they do.”

“Well, will this happen again?” Saunders asked, turning her eyes from the holograph to look at Topher. For his part, Topher's head snapped to the side, eyes meeting hers, and she couldn't place the look in them. “I need to know what kind of stressors she's dealing with so that I can prescribe treatment as I see necessary,” she said matter-of-factly, gazing back at him with what felt like a good approximation of the blank, detached look she'd seen on Topher and Ivy's faces. “If she's under excess stress, there's a chance that the wipe will...”

“'Cause her brain to go kerflooey? Yeah, it would,” Topher replied, eyes sliding back over to the holograph. “The circuitry of the brain is ... delicate, like a moth's wings, if they were made out of blown glass. If you try too hard to catch it, you could crush it in the process.”

In spite of herself, Claire flinched and pursed her lips, lowering her gaze. The thought of that happening to Shane troubled her far more than she could have anticipated and just that single reaction was enough to leave her puzzled. “Exactly that, yes,” she said finally, clearing her throat carefully. “I'll be giving her a standard over-the-counter pain reliever for the headache, but if anything like this happens again, you come and get me immediately. I'll sedate her, if need be.”

“Well, right on!” Topher said, pulling his hands from his pockets and clapping them together. “That was good for me. What about you? I think these talks are getting easier -- what do you think?”

Saunders narrowed her eyes, glowering at him. “You'll call me,” she repeated.

“Fine, fine, I'll call,” he replied, waving a dismissive hand at her. “Are we done? I've kinda gotta get back to the business of figuring out a way to manufacture some homemade storage so that DeWitt's new favey doesn't break my decks. If you don't mind, of course.”

Saunders didn't say another word, simply continued glaring at Topher as she headed over to the door and let herself out of his office, shutting the door after herself. She felt her lips draw back into an involuntary smile as she spotted Gillette and Shane standing at the railing together, looking out over the Dollhouse complex.

Their postures were eerily similar, though it was about a 2:1 difference in scale, the beefy Gillette very clearly towering over Shane's smaller, lean form, his shoulders looking a barn door compared to the compact construction of Shane's physique. Gillette was leaning his elbows on the railing, while Shane stood in a beautifully elegant slouch next to him, her right hand resting lightly on the railing in front of her while the other still held on tight to the water bottle she'd had with her when she and Gillette had arrived at the lab.

The two of them were chatting quietly – Claire couldn't hear exactly what they were saying, but she could see Shane turn her head ever so slightly towards Gillette, her lips moving, and Gillette letting out a hearty, booming laugh at whatever she had said to him. Claire could see the corners of Shane's mouth turn up faintly, briefly, in a smile and the sight tugged at something in the center of her chest. She caught herself, caught herself feeling that feeling, and took a moment to inhale deeply and try to center herself before calling out to them.

“Shane?” She said finally, licking her lips as she moved to join the two of them at the railing. She reached out, placing her hand lightly on Shane's shoulder – bare under her hand, thanks to the tank top she was wearing – and felt a jolt of heat go through her, traveling up her arm and dispersing through her body like a short fuse.

Feeling the touch, Shane turned a little, lips drawing back into a broader, warmer smile, though it was visibly weary at the edges. “Hey,” she said. “What's up? Are we still going to your office?”

“We are,” Claire confirmed, giving a quick nod. “I wanted to get you something for your headache and... have you eaten, yet, today?”

“I, uhh... breakfast? I think?” Shane replied, turning around to face Claire even as she reached up, free hand scratching through her messy hair, her expression uncertain. “Maybe?”

“Maybe,” Claire echoed, a little huff of laughter escaping her as she glanced at Mr. Gillette, who had a similar expression of wry amusement. “Okay. Well, the analgesics work more effectively on a full stomach, so how about we take you downstairs and get you something to eat, first?”

“Cool,” Shane said with a small, grateful smile.

--

Once they arrived in the cafeteria, Dr. Saunders had offered to go back to her office so that Shane could eat in peace, but Shane had insisted she stay and have lunch with her. Shane took a seat at an empty table bearing a tray of food, eyes lingering on Claire almost pleadingly.

“I feel kinda... out of place around here,” Shane admitted, glancing over at table after table of the Actives, eating and smiling at each other serenely before looking up at Claire again, brows creased, a rueful smile shaping her own lips. “They're all so nice, but...”

“I understand. They... don't make the best conversational companions,” Claire finished for her with a small smirk. Looking around for a moment, she bit her lip as she considered Shane's request. “Okay. I'll go and get my lunch and get some files from my office. I can work on them while we eat.”

“Great,” Shane said, her smile broad and genuine. So sincere and unguarded, it made Claire's chest tighten. “Thank you.”

Claire simply nodded and hurriedly excused herself, running off to her office to grab half of the large stack of files sitting in her 'In' tray before returning to the commissary to fetch a plate of food from the buffet that was set up each day for the Actives. Fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, tofu-based dishes, fish, water and juices of all sorts. All the best for their Dolls. Claire returned to Shane's table with a salad and an armful of files and as soon as she was within a few feet of the table, Shane looked up from her food and smiled, waving her over.

“Take a load off,” she said as she pushed out one of the empty seats across from herself with her foot.

“Thank you,” Claire said with a shy smile as she lowered herself into the chair, carefully settling the tray and stack of files side by side as she settled herself. Opening one of the file folders, she grabbed half of a tuna sandwich, her eyes fixed on the file as she began skimming the words written in the file, trying determinedly to read and focus on her work, but finding herself completely incapable. She could feel Shane's eyes on her, watching her, and she felt an electric jolt go up her spine at the realization. Finally, she gave up and lifted her head, finding Shane's eyes waiting there, meeting hers dead on as she looked up.

“What?” Shane asked, brows wrinkled a bit as she looked at her, a bright, shiny red apple held loosely in her hand, lightly tanned fingers curled gently around the round fruit. She lifted it to her mouth and took a bite, even teeth sinking into the red skin, puncturing it and causing a fairly loud crunch to sound as her teeth bit into it.

“Nothing,” Claire said quickly, “it – nothing.” She lowered her eyes again, purposefully shoving the corner of her sandwich into her mouth and taking a bite of it, just so she wouldn't have to speak. Chewing, she retrieved a pen from the breast pocket of her lab coat and squinted at the forms in front of her, determinedly trying to concentrate and get some work done.

“Do you always do that?” Shane asked, sounding pensively.

“Do what?” Claire asked, the corners of her mouth turning down a little as she tried to get her brain to cooperate and let her read.

“Do you always work and eat at the same time, like that?” Shane clarified and even though she wasn't looking – stubbornly refusing to look – Claire could see out of the corner of her peripheral vision that Shane had rested her elbow on the edge of the table and was leaning forward a bit, as if to see what was contained in the file she was studying.

Almost startled by the randomness of the question, Claire blinked and looked up at Shane, then glanced down at the pen in her right hand, which rested on the sheets inside the folder, the left hand holding her sandwich, and blinked again. “I – I hadn't really thought about it,” she said. “I suppose I do. Why?”

Her answer was a single tanned shoulder shrugging up. “I don't know,” Shane replied, taking another bite of her apple. When she spoke again, it was around a mouthful of apple. “It just seems like it kind of kills it. I mean, this food is fantastic and you're not even tasting it. Doesn't that suck?”

“I -- never thought about it that way,” Claire said, eyes shifting to stare a bit more purposefully at her sandwich. “I don't have much time for things like food. There are a lot of Actives here. They all need to have routine check-ups and post-engagement physicals...”

“How come you don't have an assistant?” Shane asked, lips twisting into a puzzled frown. “Topher's got an assistant.”

“I don't need an assistant,” Claire replied, a slightly defensive edge to her words. “I can do the work. I'm the resident physician. What else would I do?”

“Don't you... I don't know... go out? Have fun? Go shopping, to the movies? Something?” she asked, a disbelieving laugh escaping, though the expression on her face was clearly concerned.

“I – I don't,” Claire said haltingly as she lowered her sandwich, placing it back onto her tray. Frowning to herself, she put her pen back into her pocket, closed her file folder then picked up the tray with one hand while she gathered the files up in her other arm. “I'm sorry, I have to go, now.”

“Claire?” Shane's mouth dropped open, confusion and concern winding through her voice. “I – look – shit, I'm sorry. I should mind my own fucking business. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to --”

“Excuse me,” she said softly as she pushed the chair back from the table, stood and walked away.

Resting both elbows on the table, Shane stared down at her own tray, slowly shaking her head. “Goddammit,” she muttered under her breath. Tossing her apple down onto the tray, she buried her face in her hands. “Stupid.”

--

“I am supposed to return to this laboratory in the event of an engagement code break,” Whiskey announced as she stepped through Topher's open office door. A thick stack of file folders was cradled against her chest with one arm and with her other hand she was holding a... commissary tray?

Topher, a sandwich lodged between his own teeth as he tinkered with one of the dupe deck drives, looked up and then shot a bewildered look at Ivy, who was doing diagnostics across the way. Lowering his soldering iron and taking the sandwich out of his mouth, he rose from his seat. “Uhh... okay,” he said, scratching at his cheek. “We can, uhh, we can take care of you, Whiskey. Just come with me, okay?”

“Okay,” Whiskey replied simply, but remained in place, still holding that ridiculous tray.

“Ivy, could you --” Topher said as he took the tray and files, passing them over to her as she approached them both. “Here, take that back to the comm and go and put those back on Dr. Saunder's desk in her office for me, wouldja?”

“On it,” Ivy said dutifully as she took the proffered items and slipped out of the lab without giving Whiskey a second glance. Whiskey turned a little, watching her go, and then turned to face Topher again, her expression eerily blank.

“Okay, come on, Whiskey honey,” Topher said with a sigh as he gently took her arm and guided her through the double doors that led to the halo room. “Right this way. We'll have you all fixed up in no time. Just sit yourself down here and I'll take a look and see what's the matter.”

Whiskey seated herself in the halo chair and with a few buttons pressed, she was being eased back into a reclining position, the inner ring of the halo beginning to glow as the machine started its scans. Topher sorted through everything that had happened to Saunders since she'd left his lab in her usual snit, eyes widening slightly as he caught sight of something that got his attention. Tapping a few buttons on the display, he delved back a bit further ... hours, then a couple of days – four. Digging in a bit more deeply, searching and hitting on the same dynamics again and again. All tied in to one occurrence, all going back to one moment.

“I'll be damned,” he muttered, shaking his head in amazement. He let out a bark of astonished laughter even as he rubbed at his forehead. “I'll be damned!”

He knew just what he needed to do.
Chapter End Notes:
"Disturbed" by Rihanna - Romeo is Bleeding theme

"Ooh, for so long I've tried to shield you from the world
Ooh, you couldn't face the freedom on your own
Here I am left in silence

You gave up the fight
You left me behind
All that's done's forgiven
You'll always be mine
I know deep inside
All that's done's forgiven"

--"Forgiven" by Within Temptation - As Shane turns her back on Jenny and then jolts out of the scan.

"It's just a simple line
I can still hear it all of the time
If I can just hold on tonight
I know that nothing
Nothing survives
Nothing survives
I think I'm turned around
I'm looking up
Not looking down
And when I'm standing still
Watching you run
Watching you fall
Fall into me

Am I making something worthwhile out of this place?
Am I making something worthwhile out of this chase?
I am displaced
I am displaced

And she's my friend of all friends
She's still here when everyone's gone
She doesn't have to say a thing
We'll just keep laughing all night long
All night long

Am I making something worthwhile out of this place?
Am I making something worthwhile out of this chase?
I am displaced
I am displaced

It's just a simple line
I can still hear it all of the time
If I can just hold on tonight
I know that no one
No one survives
No one survives."

--"Displaced," by Azure Ray - When Claire/Whiskey excuses herself to return to Topher's office and as Topher works on scanning her.

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