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Author's Chapter Notes:
A jumble of memories crowded in a skull too small to contain them.
“Shane, you need help...”

At the dulcet sound of Helena's accented voice, Shane forced her eyes open. She turned her head ever so slightly on the pillow, eyes just barely slitted open so that she could look over at the curly-haired beauty beside her.

“What?” She muttered, her voice a sleep-filled rasp.

“I know that you heard me,” Helena continued, her expression sombre and filled with sympathy, her eyes filled with warmth but also sadness. She pressed on, “But I don't think that ... this... I don't think it's helping you. I don't think it ever could.”

“I dunno what you're talking about,” Shane whispered as she slowly pushed herself up, weight propped on her elbows. Reaching up, she rubbed at her eyes. They felt dry in their sockets – probably bloodshot, she knew. She hadn't been getting much sleep, lately.

“This, Shane,” Helena said quietly as she sat up in bed, gathering the sheets up to cover herself as she drew her knees up and rested her elbows on them, elegantly manicured hands clasped loosely. “I was lonely because of Dylan and... you were in pain because of Jenny and... this was just about the worst bloody thing I could have possibly done. I've realized that, now, and I – Christ, I'm so... so sorry.”

“Why are you apologizing to me?” Shane asked, opening her eyes a bit more as she looked over and gazed at Helena's naked back. Strong, lean, muscles like a Pilates coach's wet dream. Nothing like Jenny. Insanely beautiful and classy and wonderful, but... not Jenny.

Shane pushed herself up into a sitting position as well, the sheets puddling at her hips. She was bare-chested and completely unmindful of it as she leaned over the side of the bed, straining to reach her jeans where they lay on the floor. Once she caught hold of the hem of one of the legs, she pulled them to her, digging into the pockets for her cigarettes and her lighter. Lighting one, she then sat up again and scooted closer to Helena on the bed. She could feel the bare skin of her own hip brushing against Helena's own lacy underwear.

“You don't have anything to apologize for,” Shane whispered, reaching up with her right hand to gently draw the thick fall of Helena's curly hair back to reveal her shoulder. Ducking her head, Shane placed a soft kiss to the warm, smooth skin there as she loosely draped her right arm around Helena's shoulders. “You've been great.”

“Oh, Shane,” Helena sighed softly, bowing her own head for a moment. She reached out, one palm settling on Shane's cheek, lightly caressing there. “I've only been using you.” At those words, Shane tensed ever so slightly. “And you've been using me. Best we both just own up to it, now, don't you think?”

“I didn't – I didn't mean to...” Shane began, lifting her head, eyes scanning Helena's delicate profile in the dim light. The sun had only just barely started to rise, yet. “I didn't mean to hurt you.”

“No, Shane, you didn't hurt me,” she assured her, thumb slowly stroking over Shane's cheekbone. “But I'm afraid that I might've hurt you. I've been taking from you and... you've already lost so much.”

“So have you,” Shane pointed out quietly, almost absently, as she lowered her head again, lips resting against the rounded, lean muscle of Helena's shoulder.

“Not the way that you have,” she said, hand trailing up to stroke Shane's disheveled hair. “You've given me so much and it's helped – a lot – but ... I don't know that I can help you the way you've helped me.”

“You don't have to do that,” Shane murmured, giving her head a slight shake, her words barely audible.

“I know I haven't been a friend to you as long as some of the others,” she whispered as she leaned in, nuzzling her face into Shane's hair. “And I haven't been as good a friend to you as they have. As good a friend as I could've been, like you've been to me. But I wanna make up for that, now.”

“What do you mean?” Shane tipped her head up, warily meeting Helena's eyes.

“There's a friend of mine who I think might be able to help you,” she said, lowering her own gaze to stare at the rumpled sheets. “I have her card. I can make some calls and get you in to see her. Straight away, if you like.”

“Why? Why would you do that?” Giving her head a little shake, Shane narrowed her eyes as she looked at Helena.

“Because I think you need it more than you need this, right now,” Helena said simply, a long finger uncurling and flicking back and forth in the small space between them. “More than you need any of this. The drinking, the drugs, the ... well, everything.”

“I don't need a doctor, Helena,” she said wearily, turning her head to rub at her eyes with the heel of her hand for a moment before bringing her cigarette to her lips for a drag. “I don't need some shrink... telling me not to blame myself for fucking completely destroying the one person who ever really meant anything to me. I am to blame. I'm completely fucking to blame. So what's the point?” She sat silently for a moment, watching the smoke curl and wind its way up to the ceiling. “I don't wanna get better. I just... I just wanna disappear.”

“Well, in that case,” Helena began hesitantly, hand settling on Shane's thigh and moving in soothing passes. “I have another friend I can call who could help you with that.”

“You do?” Shane asked, sparing a quick, uncertain glance at Helena. “What, kind of like that thing with your mom? She could hook me up with passports or something? What?”

“I think I'll leave the explaining up to her,” she replied with a small smile as she leaned in and pressed a soft, lingering kiss to Shane's lips. “It's a trifle more complicated than that, but ...it's up to you whether or not you want to go through with it all.” She turned her hand at the wrist, the backs of her fingers carefully sliding over Shane's cheek. “You've always been so lovely to me, even when you didn't have to be. Let me do this for you, Shane.”

Shane nodded wordlessly, lips pursed as she dropped her gaze. Pulling back slightly, she took another drag off of her cigarette and then drew it from between her lips so that she could snuff it out in the small crystal ashtray sitting on the nightstand. The first time she'd spent the night at Helena's, the ashtray had been spotlessly clean – brand new. Helena rarely smoked, herself, and only kept the ashtray around for visitors. But now the bottom of the ashtray was limned with a thin layer of tamped down ashes from her cigarettes from all the nights she'd slept over, ever since everything had come crashing down around her ears. Too many for her to count, too many for her to even remember, now.

When she was certain the cigarette was out, she turned back to Helena, moving in close, and kissed her. Not hungrily or passionately, but gently... gratefully. Helena returned the kiss, sitting up and shifting a bit in place to angle herself more towards Shane. She took advantage of the change in position, her right hand cradling Helena's cheek even as her left hand began to wander, pushing the sheets down and away from Helena's upper body, one broad palm settling on her breast.

Helena let out a soft hum, her muscles tightening briefly, and she carefully broke the kiss as Shane was moving to ease the both of them back onto the bed. “Shane,” she whispered, long, slender fingers splayed over her cheeks as she drew back to look at her.

“What?” She asked, brows furrowing slightly as she looked at Helena.

“Let's just -- let's just rest, shall we, hmm?” Helena murmured, moving her hand from Shane's jaw to her throat and then finally to her chest – over the strong thump of her heartbeat - a quieting, staying touch. “Can we do that? Let's just sleep.”

“O-- okay,” she said, shifting her weight a bit and settling on her side next to Helena on the bed. Even as she moved, though, Helena's hand stayed right where it was and Shane reached up to clasp it, her grip strong. “Okay.”

“Okay,” Helena said softly, her voice sweet and pleased as she stretched herself out on the bed alongside Shane - the two of them facing each other - as she rested her head on the pillow. As Shane laid her head on the pillow, Helena reached up, hand stroking her hair. “Just sleep, Shane. It'll all be better soon. I promise.”

Her eyes were closing before she even had a chance to protest, to tell Helena that she was wrong. That there was no way anything could ever be better or good again. Instead, she fell asleep, lulled by the soft sound of Helena's voice and the soothing touch of her fingers stroking into her hair.

“You're so fucking beautiful,” Jenny whispered, one hand on each of Shane's cheeks, gently cradling her face as she gazed at her in quiet amazement, blue eyes shining.

You're beautiful,” Shane replied quietly, a deflection – a not-quite contradiction - fingers lightly stroking Jenny's arm as she averted her eyes. Jenny's skin was so white under her fingers, almost transparent, and impossibly soft to the touch.

They were both naked beneath the rumpled sheets, legs tangled together, Shane's arm fitted beneath Jenny's head, the other arm hooked around her small frame, keeping her close, almost cradling her.

“Shane?” Jenny said softly, one hand straying from Shane's face to slip down along her chest, fingertips delicately tracing a heart over the spot where Shane's real heart could be found.

“Yeah?” Shane asked, reaching with her own hand to brush the strands of jet black hair from Jenny's collarbone, fingers following the shadow of bone there.

“This is my favorite memory,” she replied, her palm coming to settle on Shane's chest, over the spot where she'd been tracing the heart. Confused by those words, Shane looked up at her, brows creased a bit. “Of my whole life. This is the best thing that's ever happened to me. You're the best thing that's ever happened to me. In my whole entire fucking life.”

“Jen...” Shane whispered, pushing herself up on her elbow slightly so that she could gaze down into Jenny's face, fingertips smoothing over Jenny's dark eyebrow. “Don't say that. Your life's not over yet. It's not anywhere close to being over yet.”

“Well, one day it might be,” she said simply, as though that was the end of the discussion. Even so, she smiled up at Shane sweetly, fingers sliding into her hair, stroking it, tucking it back behind her ears. “So just in case anyone wants to know... you know, for my obituary or something... this was my favorite day. My favorite memory. With you.”

Shane gazed at Jenny wordlessly for a few moments before she finally eased herself back down to lay half atop her girlfriend. She stared at Jenny steadily, eyes taking in every possible detail of her face in that moment – wide blue-gray eyes gazing up at her with such trust and happiness and calm, a small, peaceful smile only just faintly turning up the corners of her soft lips – and could feel her own mouth shaping into a smile. She touched Jenny's cheek, the backs of her fingers tenderly stroking there, and nodded.

“Me, too,” she whispered.

“Thank you... for doing this, Jen,” Shane said quietly, hands tucked into her pockets as she leaned in the doorway. Jenny was packing up the last small box that remained from her latest crazy whim: to turn Shane's bedroom into a writing studio so that the two of them could share Jenny's room.

Jenny had insisted on changing everything back on her own, no help from Shane, and had spent the better part of a day restoring Shane's room to its original state. There had been a number of loud thumps and swearing coming from behind her door, but any time Shane went in to check and offer her help, Jenny would just primly smooth her hair back into place and politely refuse before returning to her work.

“You don't have to thank me,” Jenny said, noticeably subdued, as she put a jar of pencils into a small cardboard box along with some of her other supplies. “It was a bad idea. I shouldn't have done it without asking you, first.”

In spite of herself, Shane felt a tug in the center of her chest and she followed the tug's lead, pushing away from the doorway to nestle close to Jenny's back, arms winding around her waist. Turning her head just a bit, she kissed Jenny's hair. “True,” she admitted, “but I didn't mean to come down on you so hard. I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry.”

“No, I understand. It – I was the one who said we should have boundaries because we live under the same roof and then look at what I do,” Jenny murmured, shaking her head sadly to herself.

“Honey, put this stuff down,” Shane insisted, reaching out to lightly grasp Jenny's wrist for a brief moment. Jenny put down the stapler and box of paper clips, hands hovering uncertainly at her mid-section. Shane drew her arms from around Jenny's waist, wrapping them instead around Jenny's shoulders, pulling her in close, embracing her gently from behind, face nestled close to Jenny's. “I love you,” she whispered into Jenny's ear. “You know that.”

“I do,” she said, voice cracking a little as she spoke, hands curling to rest on Shane's forearm.

“I do. Right? You know that,” Shane echoed, arms tightening around her slightly. “I told you before. You mean the world to me, Jenny. You're everything to me.”

“Okay,” Jenny replied. Even though Shane couldn't see her face, she could tell that Jenny had started crying – her voice sounded raspy, choked, like it often did when she got upset. “You mean everything to me, too, Shane.”

“I'm sorry,” Shane said, giving Jenny a careful squeeze. “I shouldn't have been so harsh with you. I'm really sorry, okay?

“Shane? What's happening to us? At the start, everything was so wonderful and now it's – it feels like it's all just falling apart and I can't stop it,” she whispered in a tiny, confused voice, tensing ever so slightly in Shane's arms. “We were so happy. What happened to us?”

“Nothing happened,” Shane murmured, hands gently stroking over Jenny's arms as she held her. “Things just -- they just changed, that's all.”

“I don't want to scare you off with the... crazy Jenny show,” she said, fingers tightening their hold on Shane's forearm slightly.

“Fuck,” Shane sighed as she took half a step back and gently turned Jenny around to face her, shaking her head to herself. Jenny's eyes were glistening with tears, eyes filled with fear and uncertainty as she looked up at her, and Shane grasped her shoulders, holding her in place with a firm, steady grip. “I never should have said that to you. It was fucked up and I'm sorry.”

At that Jenny rolled her eyes a bit as she reached up to wipe away the wetness that had gathered just beneath her eye. “But it's true, Shane. I was in the hospital for a month,” she muttered, shaking her head.

“And you got better and came home,” Shane finished for her, left hand straying up to cup Jenny's cheek, using the pad of her thumb to wipe away the tears there, Jenny's eyelids fluttering closed for a precious moment as she leaned into the touch ever so slightly. “Look, you're not gonna scare me off. Okay? I promise. After all the fucked up shit we've been through, it's gonna take more than you rearranging my room for me to get scared.”

That startled a laugh out of Jenny and Shane chuckled along with her for a moment. Shane leaned in and pressed a kiss to Jenny's forehead as Jenny let out a ragged sigh of relief, her muscles relaxing beneath Shane's hand. “I love you,” Jenny said, fresh tears welling in her eyes, though it was obvious these were thanks to something else entirely. Her smile was impossibly bright and grateful as she went up on her tip-toes to loop her arms around Shane's neck in a tight hug. Shane returned the embrace, burying her face in the crook of Jenny's shoulder as she held her close, hand smoothing up and down her back.

“I love you, too, baby,” Shane murmured, the words muffled by Jenny's hoodie. “You're my girl.”

“Is this okay?” Jenny asked, carefully glancing over at Shane, trying to be very careful to not move a muscle.

“Perfect. Okay, hold that for me for... a second,” Shane replied as she peered through the camera's viewfinder, one hand cradling the lens and making a few minute adjustments, while the index finger of her right hand hovered over the shutter button. One tiny nudge more to the lens and she hit the shutter button before she had the chance to change her mind.

She hit it twice more, just to be on the safe side, and snapped one more shot of Jenny in her original pose, but then one of Jenny relaxing from it. Jenny's shoulders slumped a little and she reached up to lightly rub the back of her neck, the tiny charm on her necklace twinkling in the light that poured in from the windows. Eyes softly closed, dark lashes a fan against her fair cheeks, lush lips lightly touched with gloss and shaped into a shy, impossibly sweet smile. In the natural light, Jenny positively glowed.

It had taken days for Shane to convince Jenny to sit for her – the girl who'd posed for book reading promotional posters and magazine articles without batting an eyelash – but she'd finally gotten Jenny to relent and agree to let her take some pictures.

Shane lifted her head to look up at Jenny, feeling a strange, wrenching feeling in the pit of her stomach as she looked at her directly without the aid of the camera's viewfinder. “Are you tired? Do you wanna take a break?” She asked, biting her lip as she advanced her film.

“I'm okay,” Jenny assured her as she opened her eyes and looked at Shane, her smile reassuring, adoring. “How are you?”

“I'm fine,” Shane said with a quiet chuckle, shaking her head to herself a little as she stepped away from her camera and walked to the back to retrieve a bottle of water from the small fridge in her dark room. Jenny really had thought of everything. She cracked the seal on the lid as she walked back into the studio proper, pitching it into the trash bin by her desk as she crossed back over to Jenny and handed her the bottle. “Here.”

“Oh! Thank you,” Jenny said, smiling gratefully as she accepted the bottle and took a careful sip of it, completely relaxing from her original pose. She sighed happily as Shane reached out, fingertips gently brushing the messy, long fringe out of Jenny's eyes. Shane cradled her cheek, lips settling against Jenny's forehead in a tender kiss, the two of them falling perfectly still, just existing together for a few moments.

“You look so pretty,” Shane whispered against her skin, hands slowly sliding down along Jenny's throat in tandem, to her shoulders, where they carefully kneaded the muscles. Shane could feel the tension in Jenny's shoulders and neck and silently cursed herself for taking so long – it was a rookie mistake, expecting the models to stay still for too long a time without a break. But she could make it up to her now, at least a little.

“Mmmm... you make me pretty,” Jenny countered, a warm smile in her voice as she wound her arms around Shane's waist and tipped her head back to look up at her and Shane could see the smile in Jenny's voice matched the one on her face. “When I'm with you, all the rest of it... all the fucking bullshit... it all just goes away. I feel like someone new when I'm with you. There's no baggage, there's no past... there's just you.”

Uncertain of what to say, Shane just nodded, feeling a knot forming at the back of her throat as she slipped her arms around Jenny, face nestling into her neck as she pressed close, holding on tightly. Just like that first time.

All she'd said was 'thank you' when Jenny had presented her gift to her. She'd obviously been working on the place for weeks, getting it set up so that everything was just so – perfect, for Shane's first glimpse of it.

Then just a day or two later, she'd brought Niki there, kissed her there, and there was still a part of her mind that railed at it, that shrieked at her, demanded to know what she'd thought she was doing, bringing Niki Stevens to the studio Jenny had given to her.

Shane still didn't have an answer for that part of herself, even now. Yet when it came to making a choice as to who would be the first person to do a session for her, Shane knew it would be Jenny. It was an automatic, elementary decision – of course, it would be Jenny. Of all of her friends, Jenny was the only one who truly understood her frustration with her current career and was the only one who had sincerely supported her when she'd first started exploring her interest in photography.

There'd been Molly... but that had been over for months and Shane had long since tried to put the determined young law student out of her mind, knowing that what she'd done had been hurtful, but the best for both of them in the long run. It had been an experimental dalliance for Molly but after Phyllis had confronted her at the museum, Shane realized she'd only been fooling herself.

As much as they cared about each other, they were just too different. Molly practically forced herself to see the goodness in people – she had to, if she was going to be a public defender – but had been too privileged to ever understand the way Shane, herself, had very often seen the world and the people in it. The way Jenny had too often seen them.

There was something, though, that felt strangely like relief whenever she was around Jenny. An unspoken understanding that they didn't have to pretend that everything was okay around each other. She could relax and just be herself – not always having to worry about what stories she could tell about her past or try to figure out how to explain some aspect of the life she'd lived. Not just the tricking, but growing up knowing she was a lesbian – knowing from such an early age that she'd been that different – and having basically no one to turn to for help when she needed it. There were priests at the shelter, of course, but she wasn't their only concern – there were hundreds of kids who'd turn up every week.

But with Jenny, she didn't need to explain, didn't need to censor herself or carefully monitor her words. She could just talk. Jenny never pushed and that made it a great deal easier to open up to her – to want to open up to her. She might insist that they discuss a snag their relationship had developed, because she believed complete honesty was important to a healthy relationship, but apart from that, she was grateful for anything Shane might decide to tell her about herself. No judgment, no censure, no uncomfortable, probing questions. Just her comforting presence and her patient silence.

“Shane?” Jenny asked softly, her hand coming to rest between Shane's shoulder blades. “Are you okay?”

Inhaling deeply, Shane gave Jenny one last squeeze before straightening up to meet her questioning gaze with a reassuring smile. “Yeah, I'm fine,” she replied with a quick nod as she leaned in to press a delicate kiss to Jenny's lips.

“It's only been a few days since you had that awful food poisoning. Do you feel okay?” Jenny asked, reaching up to lightly smooth her hand over Shane's brow, letting it slide down to cup her cheek.

“Oh, no, I'm totally fine, now. Promise,” she said, sketching a cross over her heart dutifully as she smiled. “I was just... I don't know... thinking.”

“About what?” Jenny asked, head tilting to a curious angle.

“I don't know,” she said, lifting her shoulder in a slight shrug as she glanced out the window and watched a mother walking by the shop with her daughter, the handles of half a dozen shopping bags hanging from each of her hands.

She turned her head further still, to the white wall that Jenny had prepared for her so that she could display her finished work. Right now, it was a drawing board, of sorts – a place where Shane put her new photos whenever she was trying out a new technique or style so that she could study them in the proper light and see what appealed to her eyes the most.

There was a photo of Sounder that she'd taken at the house. Processed in black and white, his orange and white fur turned various washes of gray, but the sunlight bouncing off of the hardwood floors from the living room surrounded him in a halo. He was 'smiling' as best as a little dog could, perking up as Shane called his name to get his attention.

There was another shot that she'd taken at the Planet by sitting her camera down on the table top, aiming it a bit and then hitting the shutter. She'd done it surreptitiously while they were all having lunch and it showed: amid the plates and cups and coffee cups, Bette could be seen running her index finger along the front of her teeth, lips curled back. Tina was smiling at Angie, who was seated on her lap and facing her as she played with her tiny hands. Alice had her laptop open and she was typing and Tasha, seated next to her, was slouching back in her seat and watching what Alice was up to. You could just make out Kit's lower half as she approached the table, her dark slacks and brightly-colored blouse a dead giveaway. There was a tiny bit of Jenny to be seen, off in the corner, nearly out of the shot, seated in her chair at the end of the table, and leaning her head on her hand. Her eyes were focused on something behind the camera and there was a serene, almost secretive smile on her face.

Shane hadn't shown the photo to anyone besides Jenny, but when she had shared it with her, Jenny had stared at it for quite some time without speaking. When she'd finally broke out of her reverie, Jenny had said, “This is the most amazing thing, Shane. The way you've captured them. All of us. It's perfect. You have to put this on your wall. It's good. No, seriously, it's really good!”

“I was just... thinking about this place,” Shane said finally, withdrawing from her reminiscences to turn back to Jenny. “Thinking about you. This is the most amazing thing that anyone's ever done for me, Jen.”

“You deserve it,” Jenny replied with a loving smile, her hand slipping down to rest on Shane's heart. “I knew you could make beautiful art and I was right.”

“I'm not an artist, Jen,” she said with a soft chuff of disbelieving laughter as she shook her head. “Uh-uh. You're the artist, here, I'm just – Jen? Where are you going?”

Jenny had hopped off of her stool and slipped past Shane, marching her way over to where Shane's camera was standing. Going up on her tip-toes, she pressed a few buttons to access the camera's digital memory backup and peered through the viewfinder to take a look at the shots Shane had taken during their session. “I'm looking at your work,” she said absently, brows furrowed as she squinted, finger pushing the button a few more times before finally stopping. Her eyes widened. “Shane... come here, quick!”

Worried that something might be wrong, Shane immediately hurried to Jenny's side, frowning. “What?” She asked. “What is it? Are they fucked up or something?”

“Look. Look at that... and tell me what you see,” Jenny insisted, taking a step back from the camera, making room for Shane so that she could step up, lean in and peer through the viewfinder.

“What am I looking at?” She asked, squinting as she shielded her eyes from the light pouring in through the front windows. It was one of the photos she'd snapped of Jenny a few minutes before. Diffuse daylight spilling over Jenny's face, her expression calm, but something about the image... there was an undeniable quiescence, but Jenny radiated happiness. It seemed to manifest itself in the gentle lighting, the thoughtful tilt of her head.

“You're looking at art, my love,” Jenny replied, certainty and pride evident in her words.

Shane straightened up, drew back a little, feeling strangely startled on the inside as Jenny's words reached her ears, as her brain absorbed that information, measured it against what her eyes were telling her. “That's what you see?” She asked, eyes widening a bit as she looked over at Jenny.

For her part, Jenny's smile was warm, tender as she nestled against Shane's side, hand settling on her chest. “I told you: you make me pretty,” she whispered. Leaning in, she pressed a kiss to the long, pale column of Shane's throat. “You're the only who's ever really seen me, Shane. You're the only one who ever could.”

Still feeling startled and unsettled at the realization, all Shane could do is wrap her arms around Jenny's shoulders, holding on tightly to her, cheek settling against the top of Jenny's head. She was unable to draw her eyes away from the image of Jenny in the viewfinder. Quiet, peaceful, happy.

Jenny didn't say a word as she stepped through the front door. She'd unlocked it and stepped in, leaving it sitting open as Shane trailed word lessly after her into the house, shutting the door after the two of them and locking it. Jenny lifted her right foot, fingers struggling with the tiny buckle on her dancing shoe. She grunted, wobbling on her left foot and hopping a little to keep her balance as she tried to get the leather strap of her shoe loose. Letting out a tiny ragged sigh, she gave up, lowering her foot again as she strode further into the living room to take a seat on the couch.

Shane took a few steps into the living room, standing impotently by the papasan chair, fussing with the stitching on the soft cushion in it, eyes fixed on the spot. The stitching was coming loose.

Taking a seat on the edge of the couch, Jenny reached up, fingers searching out the silver barrettes she'd clipped into her hair to hold her bangs out of her eyes. One by one, she popped the metal clips open and pulled them from her hair, letting them all fall to the floor with tiny, almost musical clatters.

Shane drew in a deep breath and forced herself to cross to the couch, though she didn't take a seat next to Jenny. She didn't dare risk it, at that point. Instead, she perched on the coffee table, favoring the end that put her at an angle to Jenny – not in front of her, though she could have chosen that spot as well – and put some distance between them. She rested her forearms on her knees, eyes leveled on the floor as each of the barrettes landed on the hardwood, bouncing as they hit.

Once all the barrettes were gone, Jenny smoothed her fingers over her bangs, combing her fingers through them for a moment before reaching up and back to start pulling out the hair pins holding her snug bun in place at the nape of her neck. Much like with the barrettes, the hair pins were tossed carelessly to the floor

Hands twisting together between her knees fitfully, Shane finally leaned down, reached out and gently took Jenny's foot at the ankle, lifting her foot into her lap to start working on the tiny buckle on her shoe that she'd been having such a problem with. The repetitious metallic tinktink of the hair pins falling on the floor stopped and when Shane looked up, she found Jenny staring at her, eyes widened slightly as she looked at Shane, surprise at the edges of her pained expression.

Shane didn't say anything, simply lowered her head again to focus on the small task she'd set herself. The buckle was gold and tiny and it took a few seconds of coaxing, but she finally managed to nudge the tongue of the shoe's strap back out of the buckle, gently pulling it free from the pin holding it in place and slipping it out. She cradled Jenny's heel in her hand, carefully easing the shoe off of her foot before setting it aside on the floor. Her hands moved over Jenny's foot, tenderly massaging along her instep and the sole of her foot to ease some of the tension there before she lowered Jenny's foot back to the floor and reached for the other.

As much to her surprise as to Jenny's, Jenny allowed Shane to lift her right foot into her lap so that she could unbuckle her other shoe. Jenny let out a soft sigh and when Shane looked up again, she found Jenny staring at her, wetness rimming her sad eyes.

“So when are you going to see Niki?" Jenny asked softly.

"'m not," Shane replied, shaking her head deliberately as she tried to coax the leather tongue of the strap from its buckle.

"You can, you know. Whenever you want. That's why I bought her for you," she whispered and out of the corner of her eye, Shane could see Jenny ducking her head, shoulders slumping with an unseen weight.

"You shouldn't have done that, Jenny," she said quietly, her voice a husky rasp at the back of her throat.

"What?" Jenny asked, her own voice sounding strained, hurt.

"What you did. At the dance, all the -- and the studio," she murmured, shaking her head to herself. "All of it."

"I did it for you," Jenny replied, that agonizingly sweet, adoring undertone to her words, underneath the pain and confusion. All it did was make Shane feel even more nauseous, her stomach doing dreadful flip-flops deep in the pit of herself.

"You shouldn't have," Shane insisted, frowning to herself as she finally worked the leather strap from the buckle, pushing it out and tugging it free before she carefully pulled Jenny's heeled dancing shoe from her foot. "I'm not worth it."

"Maybe not to them. Maybe not to Cherie or Paige or even Niki... but you are to me," Jenny whispered, voice breaking. After a moment, Shane forced her head up to look at her, taking in the sight of Jenny, hair tousled and half undone, falling about her face and down her chest, tears streaming down her face, visibly trembling with pain. Her eyes were wide, swimming with tears as she searched Shane's face. "Okay?"

Before she even realized what she was doing, Shane pushed herself up from where she was sitting on the coffee table and took a seat on the couch next to Jenny, slipping her arm around Jenny's huddled form and drawing her in close.

"I'd rip my soul out of me and give it to you, if I could," Jenny whispered as she nestled her face against the silken black of Shane's shirt, tears soaking in as she cried, arms winding around Shane's waist as she held on tight. "I'd do that for you."

Shane stared at the tiny pile of hair pins and barrettes, tears pooling in her eyes as she smoothed her free hand over Jenny's hair.

The kiss was slow and sweet and when they finally got moving again, they were stumbling their way through Jenny's door, letting the door knob bang against the wall as they blindly made their way into the room. Shane's arms were draped over Jenny's shoulders and Jenny's were wound around Shane, the two of them holding each other close, pressed flush against each other from chest to hip as they moved as one body to the bed.

When the toe of Jenny's pump hit the side of her bed frame, she turned her body a bit, pulling Shane with her as she bent her knees to take a seat on the edge of the bed, arms unwinding from around Shane, hands settling on her shoulders, pulling her close.

After a moment, Shane broke the kiss, hands gently grasping Jenny's wrists and drawing her hands down as she eased herself to the floor beside the bed, kneeling in front of Jenny. Still clasping Jenny's hands in hers, Shane smoothed her thumbs over the backs of Jenny's fingers, callused thumbs against soft, pale skin. Looking up, she met Jenny's eyes for just a moment, seeing the confusion and concern in Jenny's faded blue eyes and her breath caught in her lungs for a moment at the sight.

Shane slowly bowed her head, lips settling against the back of Jenny's hand and pressing there, resting there for a moment. She lifted her head a fraction, lips sliding over Jenny's skin before coming to rest in another spot along the side of her hand, the tender spot between Jenny's forefinger and thumb. She heard Jenny draw in a soft, sharp breath but didn't stop, shifting on her knees to press another, firmer kiss to the knuckles of Jenny's right hand. Jenny uncurled her fingers, fanned them open and she reached up, resting them on Shane's cheek.


The sound of Jenny's voice was there -- soft and gently insistent -- so close, so close and loud in her ears in the quiet but as much as she tried to fight her way up, she felt pinned, a hard weight bearing down on her chest, unrelenting. Her jaws were clenched together so tightly that her entire skull ached, the pain radiating through her from head to toe, making her feel shaky and dizzy.

“Shane, wake up.”

I love you I don't care not abide anyone who threatens you're my family

Almost as soon as the threads of memory resolved themselves, they slipped away, maddeningly, from her grasp before she had a chance to catch hold of them. Gone.

The rush slammed into her again and she came to like bolting out of a night terror, a drowning man's gasp dragged from her lungs as she clutched at the arms of the halo seat, eyes wide and painfully dry as her body seized in the chair. It only lasted for that one moment - that one moment of dying - but it left her trembling and cold from the sweat glistening on her skin. After a few more seconds, her body collapsed back into the chair and she was left panting, the most horrible, spent feeling settling over her like a dirty, tattered shroud as she reclined there, making her skin feel gritty and unclean.

"Okay, she's out." Ivy's voice was steady but there was a definite undertone of what sounded strangely like relief in her words. A gasping, breathless quality that nearly matched Shane's own struggling gasps for air.

"Great, get her up and get her something to drink, okay?" Topher was saying and he sounded distracted, though there were the sounds of his fingers depressing buttons, clicking switches, fiddling with his keyboard. “Get her a towel or something, too – she's sweating like a gym sock.”

“Nnggm – nngh!” Shane tried to speak, grimace at the unfamiliar object fitted flush against her palate. Reaching up, she yanked the bite guard from her mouth and wiped the saliva from her lips with the back of her wrist. “No.”

“No? No what?” Topher asked in his usual bored drawl. “You want juice or something instead? Ivy can hook you up. Can't you, Ivy?”

“No! I don't want to take a break,” Shane gritted out, doing her best to remain still though everything within her was telling her to sit up and look at Topher straight in the eye. So that he could see just how serious she was. Instead, she curled the fingers of her free hand into a tight, trembling fist. “I don't wanna take a break. I wanna keep going.”

“What are you talkin' about? We've been at this for over an hour, you should --” Topher began as he circled around to stand alongside Shane as she lay in the chair.

“No! I want it out,” she all but growled, and the glint in her hollow eyes was like the light catching on the edge of a razor blade, horribly keen and focused but at the same time there was a hint of coldness, there. Fear. Desperation. Pain. “She fucking told me you could make this all go away and every time we have to stop and then start again, it's just digging the knife in deeper and deeper all over again. Please!

“Jesus, I – god, okay, fine!” Topher mumbled, eyes round with surprise as he stared at the young woman. Taking a deep breath, he raked a hand through his hair, casting a helpless glance at Ivy, who stood a few feet away, having been on her way over to the chair from the mini fridge in the corner, a bottle of water clutched in her hand. “Okay, fine, if that's what you want, I can do that. But I don't know how much more of this your brain can take today. If your brain's in that state for too long, undergoing all that kooky excitement, it could short you out. Like, gone, sayonara bye-bye, for good.”

Shane stared at him for a moment, the fierceness in her gaze dimming only just slightly as she let out a huff of cynical laughter. “Either way,” she said and the stuffed the bite guard back into her mouth, wrapping her lips around the large piece of shaped latex so that she could close them. After a moment, she lowered her head back down onto the headrest and closed her eyes.

Feeling unspeakably shaken by what he'd seen in Shane's eyes, Topher looked at Ivy again but Ivy had no answers to give him. She shrugged and turned to replace the bottle of water in the fridge, leaving Topher to work things out for himself.

Rubbing at the back of his neck, he turned his eyes to Shane again, laying in the halo chair like some kind of sacrifice on an altar, and then crossed over to the stack of freshly revamped decks he'd fashioned for Shane's OEM dupes and retrieved a fresh one. Gingerly tugging the full deck out of the slot, he then slid the fresh drive in and keyed in the commands to lower the chair into place again. “If anything happens to you, Saunders is gonna frickin' kill me,” he muttered to himself under his breath as Shane sucked in a sharp breath, muscles tensing as she was immersed back into the dupe state.

Holding one plastic corner of the almost smoking-hot deck between his thumb and forefinger, Topher carried it over to the rack and fitted it into an empty slot. That done, he rested his hands on his hips, staring fixedly at the several bays that they had already filled with Shane's memories.

“What are you thinking about?” Ivy asked as she appeared at his side, holding out an open bottle of YooHoo to him.

Sighing, Topher accepted the bottle of chocolatey heaven and took a deep swig, much like a harder man might take a shot from a bottle of whiskey, eyes still scanning over the labels of each of the decks. “Have you ever had a memory so bad that you'd be willing to risk turning yourself into a well-steamed eggplant just so you could forget it?”

“No,” Ivy said, shaking her head a little. She'd hesitated, just briefly, but enough to let him know that she wasn't being entirely truthful. Reaching out, she lightly ran her fingers down along the series of decks in Shane's column. Eight in total, so far. “Maybe for her, it isn't just one bad memory.”

“Maybe,” Topher said quietly, though Ivy could tell by his tone of voice that he wasn't entirely convinced by that explanation.

There was a sound from behind them – another low, sudden gasp, like the strange, dark woman in the chair had just been punched in the gut with a five-hundred pound weight – and it sent an awful shudder creeping up Topher's spine. He didn't have to look back over his shoulder to see that she was tensed in the chair again, back arched, muscles bunching and twitching in tiny, fitful seizures from the torment of memories that were assailing her.

In that moment, he wasn't sure if he was hoping that Shane would be okay when they brought her out of the dupe stasis or hoping that she wouldn't be. Either way, something felt very, very wrong.
Chapter End Notes:
"Disturbia" by Rihanna, "Romeo is Bleeding" theme.

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