EPILOGUE

Leave Me Out

"This is cold."

He folded his arms, scowling when she ignored him in favor of staring through the glass at the girl. "Even by your standards, this is cold."

"It had to be done." Her voice was soft, fingers pressed against the window. "I'm only doing my job. What else was I supposed to do?"

"Be a little more human, for starters."

He stepped forward to stand beside her at the window. The girl on the other side was asleep. Well, when he thought about it, she could hardly be called a girl—she had to be at least as old as him. But with her hair down, curled up on her bed with the sphere held close against her chest, he couldn't help but think of a young girl with her teddy bear, napping quietly without a care in the world.

Whoever it was that had stolen that innocence away from her, he was very tempted to hunt them down and exact revenge for her. Except for the fact that, by all accounts, she'd done a pretty good job at exacting revenge by herself.

She sniffed. "I don't expect you to understand. You're a code monkey, not a psychiatrist."

"I don't have to be a psychiatrist to know when someone's hurt," he said. "And you made some shitty choices trying to fix her."

Her eyes flashed with anger. "The next time you have to deal with a schizophrenic girl who very well could have wound up with DID from the torture she went through, who was hunted by two psychotic AI, betrayed by one of them who she thought was going to help her, and removed from society for well over fifty years on top of all of that trauma, then you can tell me if the decisions I made were shitty or not. Until then, shut your goddamn mouth."

Like it or not, she did have a point. A sullen silence fell between the two as they watched the girl's chest rise and fall, her breath stirring the loose tendrils of dark hair that fell over her face.

"This is only for a few weeks," she said into the silence. Her voice had calmed once more, returning to its cool, professional tone. "Until we're sure she's out of her psychotic break."

"Do you even know what happened in there?" He looked sideways at her. Her lips had pressed into a thin line. "From what I hear, the museum's security system had a catastrophic failure right before the lockdown. You don't know what the hell it was she saw in there."

Her brows quirked upward. "What else could it have been? Your own reports say that thing has been defunct for six months. Chief Newman turned it over to the museum because there was nothing else to get out of it." Now her eyes narrowed in slowly-dawning suspicion. "Unless there's something that was left out of your reports..."

He shrugged uncomfortably. That was straying a little too far into dangerous territory. "I'm just saying you shouldn't trust everything you read, that's all. What's going to happen to her?"

Her brows went up even farther at the abrupt change in subject, but thankfully she made no comment on it. "She'll stay here, and so will I. I'll keep talking to her. The first thing I have to do is determine whether or not it would be a detriment to her mental health to allow her to keep the sphere, or—"

"Let her keep it," he said without hesitation.

Now her eyebrows had almost disappeared into her hairline. "Do you have any kind of basis for this claim?"

"Nothing that'll satisfy you," he muttered. He would have made another snarky comment or five, except that the girl had stirred now, her brows creasing with some worry that marred the peaceful innocence on her face. Her arms curled tighter around the sphere, knees pulling inward until she had almost wrapped herself around it in a protective ball.

"Just look at her, Liz," he said quietly. "That thing is like her lifeline. Even if you didn't know that seeing it had sent her into the crazy-circuit in the first place, or that she attacked the first officer who tried to pull it from her, would you want to take it away?"

"Some people would see that as an excuse to take it away sooner." She sighed, rubbing at her temples. "It's my job to convince them otherwise. I just need time to do it."

"Time you don't have," he said. "Not if she's ever going to get out of here and get back to her normal life. What's your deadline?"

"Three weeks from now."

"That's cutting it a little short."

"You're telling me."

Silence stretched between them. Then he looked at her again, his lips curling downward in a frown. When he spoke again, his voice was dark. "This wouldn't have happened if you'd just let us talk to her."

Her shoulders slumped. "What the hell did you expect me to do?" she asked tiredly. "I didn't think she was ready. Doesn't this only prove that she wasn't? It wouldn't have gone any better if she had seen him alive. She probably would have done exactly the same thing."

"But you don't know that," he countered. "There's no way you'd ever know for sure. It could have helped her!"

"Or it could have made her worse!" she snapped. Then she deflated, her anger disappearing into exhaustion once again as she rubbed at her eyes. "I'm only human, Chase. Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I regret that. But you know I'm only trying to help her."

Yet another good point. He was beginning to feel like a dick for even bringing it up. But he was right, too, and she knew it. She could profile and predict all she wanted, but there was never any guarantee that she would be right.

It had been her decision to keep all information about what they had found away from the girl. He had been the most vocal of their team against it, but Gabe had insisted that they respect her decision—so for two and a half years they had flat-out lied to something that was as close to remorseful and alive as he was sure they would ever see. And for what? To have the girl find out anyway, long after it had become a museum piece, and completely lose her mind over it? And then to tell her that the whole thing had never actually happened, when she herself didn't even know whether it had or not? How could that possibly be classified as helping?

"I know you don't approve. You don't have to say it again." She touched the glass again, gently. "But believe me when I say I'm doing the best I can."

"Do better."

She shot him a venomous glare, but he ignored her. The girl was stirring again. One arm slid from the surface of the sphere and flopped down to the mattress, her elbow hanging over the edge. Even from here, the ragged scars she had come away with from her confrontation with the glass were visible up her arm, pale and fresh above the darker scars from years before. He wondered if she wore long sleeves at work, and if she wore them at home as well...

The door behind them opened. "Excuse me," the security guard said. "Your time is up. Please follow me."

She turned away immediately, but he lingered at the window for a few seconds more. The girl shifted again, the muscles in her face tensing and releasing, and then her eyes fluttered open. She was still facing the window, and he had the sudden feeling that she was looking through it, straight through the mirror-tint at him, even though he knew it was impossible. 'Where are you going?' those cloudy blue eyes seemed to ask. 'Why are you leaving me here? What's going to happen to me?'

He didn't have the answers. Not right now. But he was going to find some.

He turned and walked away. The security guard slid the door shut behind him.

Inside her room, on the other side of the looking-glass, the girl closed her eyes again, her arms folding possessively around the sphere in her arms. There was nothing else to do but go back to sleep, and wait.


fin.

UPDATE: There is now a sequel. Check it out, if you like.