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Tattoos of Memories

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It was weird being at the NYO. There was the normal scurry of agents moving about working on various cases, but everything was all wrong. For starters, there was a new agent whose name Patterson hadn't bothered to learn yet sitting at Tasha's old desk. Patterson hated that new guy, whatever his name was. She didn't even know what his job was but it didn't matter. He was sitting in Tasha's seat. She felt like stealing his stapler.  

It wasn't so much that someone new was in Tasha's seat, it was the utter absence of the CIA agent. And Patterson felt ridiculous being so upset about Zapata's absence. They'd spent at least a year officially not dating and, up until recently, Patterson had barely even acknowledged Tasha's existence. The hardest part of it all, Patterson realized, was that they had been working at getting back on track at least as friends and they'd each admitted to still harboring deep feelings for the other. Not having Tasha around now was somehow worse than being broken up with her. Patterson didn't really know what they were anymore.  

The lights in Reade's office weren't on yet. He stopped at the hospital each morning to get an update on Weller's condition and to check in with Jane. Jane was in and out of the hospital. She was no longer confined there —the doctors saw no reason to keep her there with no treatments or cures currently available for ZIP poisoning — but she still spent most of her time there sitting next to Weller's bed. She'd only stopped into the NYO a few times, and at those times she'd seemed withdrawn and confused at best. She didn't say much and almost acted as if she didn't know any of them. Patterson thought she seemed much like she did when she first climbed out of the bag in Times Square, and she was sad for her friend.   

Patterson texted Rich as she entered her lab. They were still working on the thumb drive Roman had given Jane in Cape Town, and she needed his help to sort through the mountains of data. Of course, she wouldn't admit it to Rich, but he had proven to be helpful on more than several occasions and she was really beginning to value his contributions. A year ago, Patterson would have choked on that thought.   

She called up the drive's contents and navigated to the section on ZIP poisoning and stepped towards the oversized wall-mounted monitors to begin studying the data Roman had collected while she waited for Rich.  

"Hey Peppermint Patty," Rich said as he walked into the lab. He wiped the remains of a powdered donut from his fingers and stood next to Patterson, following her gaze to the monitors.  

"Don't call me that," Patterson replied without looking at him. 

"Someone's grumpy this morning," he said. 

"I'm not grumpy," Patterson objected. "I'm just... I just... I can't figure any of this out and I'm frustrated by it. There's so much data missing. And I want to figure it out. For Jane." 

Rich nodded. "Oh, sure. I just figured it was because your girlfriend was gone." 

Patterson crossed her arms. She turned and stared at Rich. "What are you talking about?" 

"Oh please. You and Agent Frowns-A-Lot," he said. "I'm not stupid."  

She grabbed Rich roughly by the arm and walked him away from the monitors towards the far corner of the lab where she was sure no one could overhear them. 

"What are you talking about? And think about your answer very carefully before you say something stupid," she whispered.  

Rich looked around before dropping his gaze down to the hand that still had a tight grip on his arm.  

"Ok, well first of all, ow," he said, prying her hand away. "I'm really not loving this interaction. That's a hell of a grip. Second of all, don't give me that big-eyed look. You guys have been together for like two years. Did you really expect me not to notice all the looks and touches? Kissy face in the locker room? I mean, really..." 

"How did you...? You know what? It doesn't matter," Patterson said finally, shaking her head and heading back to the monitors. It wasn't worth denying it. Rich had clearly seen them at some point. It didn't matter anyway. Tasha was gone and they weren't really together anymore.   

"Wait, you mean, I'm right?" he asked as he hurried after her. "You and whatever her name is? I knew it!" 

"Would you just shut up?" Patterson said, turning back to him. "I mean, yes, you're sort of...whatever, it doesn't matter. It's complicated. Can we just get back to the drive?" 

Rich nodded and held his hands up in surrender. "Sure, sure. As long as you can focus. I mean—" 

Patterson cut him off with a cold glare.  

"Okay, okay! I'm sorry. Touchy," he said. "Back to work. So, what are we looking at here?" 

Patterson took a deep breath. "Okay, so this is the section on ZIP poisoning that was on the drive Roman gave to Jane in Cape Town. It seems like Roman had been suffering from it for at least a year." 

"When did Jane ZIP him?" Rich asked. 

"A little more than two years ago," Patterson replied. "But the dosage was nowhere near whatever Jane was given. I mean, Roman started recovering large chunks of his memory very quickly. Jane's recovery was much slower. There's still a lot of things that she doesn't remember."   

"But she was flooded with it," Rich said. He studied one of the monitors that was displaying a complex-looking diagram illustrating how PKMzeta interacts with synapses in the brain to create long-term memories. A corresponding chart showing how ZIP interrupts the protein's process appeared just below it. "This is some serious-looking brain wave tampering. Is anyone surprised Roman was short-circuiting?" 

Patterson ran a hand through her hair and gave a groan of frustration.. "I know," she said. "And that's what's bothering me. All of this is just a little bit outside of my area. I understand what's happening and why it's happening, sort of, but I mean, Roman had some really good doctors and researchers working on figuring this out, and it looks like they don't have anything that we didn't already know."  

Rich crossed his arms and stepped back from the wall of monitors. He leaned against the counter and stared at the data. He was a hacker, not a doctor. They could stare at this data all day long but it was incomplete. Until they had the missing drives, they were driving blind. He knew this wasn't the answer Patterson was looking for but it was the only one he had. They needed to find the other drives.  

"What is that?" Jane's voice interrupted their thoughts. She stepped into the lab and her eyes immediately fixed on the charts and data on the monitors.  

Patterson scrambled to kill the image but it was too late. Jane was already standing next to her, eyes flicking from screen to screen rapidly.  

"Jane!" she began, surprised to see the tattooed woman and even more surprised to see that she looked more lucid than she had the last time she'd seen her. She creased her brow in concern and directed Jane to a nearby chair. "How are you?" 

Jane sighed and shook her head as she sat. "I'm okay, I think. I feel foggy like I've had too much to drink but I'm okay." She gestured to the monitors with her chin. "What is all that? Is that all the data from Roman's drive?" 

Rich and Patterson exchanged a glance. He held out a hand to Patterson in a gesture that seemed to say "go ahead and explain." 

"Some of it, yeah," Patterson said. "It's missing a whole bunch of information but it looks like Roman was also suffering from ZIP poisoning. We're just trying to make sense of it so we can maybe find a way to reverse it." 

Jane tore her attention away from the monitors and studied Patterson's face. "You're not telling me something," she said. "I feel like everyone is keeping something from me." 

Patterson didn't respond. She didn't feel like it was her place to tell Jane the little bit of information that she actually had.  

"Patterson," Jane pressed. "Look, for the first time in days I feel like I know what's going on around me. I'm not dizzy. I don't have any headaches. I feel normal. If you're keeping something from me, tell me. Please. You're my friend. I have to know what's happening." 

The scientist sighed and grabbed for a nearby chair. She rolled it up so she was sitting in front of Jane.  

"Are you sure?" 

"Yes. Tell me."  

Patterson hesitated.  

"Patterson. Please." 

"Okay," Patterson began and nodded to herself as if steeling herself for the explanation she was about to give. "So, when the brain stores something, a memory, it gets split up into sights, sounds, smells, emotions. And it uses a handful of chemicals that are generated in your brain in the synapses." She stopped and saw the look on Jane's face. She'd lost her already. "Let me try this another way. Your brain is sort of like a... a circuit board. Memories are stored all over the surface of the board. Sights are stored in one place and sounds in another. To recall a complete memory with sights and sounds, those pieces need to be connected through a hardwiring of sorts." 

"Synapses," Jane supplied.  

"Yes! But if you wanted to forget something, you'd need to cut the wire. That's sort of what ZIP does. In small doses. If I gave you a very small dose of ZIP and then asked you to remember a specific thing, you wouldn't be able to remember that one targeted memory. ZIP cuts that hardwiring. But in your case —" 

"It wasn't a small dose." 

"Right," Patterson agreed. "You were completely flooded with it which basically cut all the wires. None of those sights and sounds could be connected so no memories could be formed. Over time, though, they started to reconnect. We don't really know how because, frankly, ZIP is still super experimental and there's not a lot of research on it. But basically, that massive amount of ZIP shut down so much electrical activity in your brain that it's starting to... short circuit." 

"Short circuit?" Jane repeated. It came out as a question but there was no actual question. She understood what Patterson was saying perfectly. "You're saying my brain is short circuiting? What does that mean?" 

Patterson frowned and nodded slowly. Rich stepped next to Patterson. "Roman's was too," he said. "It just happened faster to him because, well, we don't really know why." 

Jane let the gravity of what they told her sink in for a minute.  

"So, what's going to happen? To me?" she asked finally.  

Patterson glanced at Rich again and he gave her the same "go on" gesture he'd given her before. She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly.  

"Headaches, fatigue, dizziness —" 

"I already have those," Jane interrupted. 

"Hallucinations, massive memory lapses, memory relapses, brain aneurysms... There might be others but those are the ones we know about. Or at least those are the ones Roman seemed to be experiencing from the data he collected on the drive." 

Jane looked away and seemed to consider the information for a minute.  

"Did he find a way to stop it?" 

Patterson shook her head. "Not yet. Or at least we don't think so. But this drive makes it seem like there are other drives hidden all over the world," she said. "And if they're like this one, they'll have more medical data on them for the cure he was looking for." 

"That's why he gave it to me," Jane said, suddenly understanding the final conversation she'd had with her brother. "He was trying to save me." 

"Yeah," Rich agreed. "That's sort of what it seems like." 

"But why split the drives up? Why not give me the whole thing? It's another treasure hunt. Another game," Jane said as she rubbed her temple. She felt another headache coming on.  

Patterson saw the way Jane was massaging her temple and cast a worried look at Rich. She wanted to help Jane but felt absolutely powerless. She put a hand on Jane's shoulder.  

"Don't worry," she said and gave a small smile. "We'll figure this out. But in the meantime, maybe you should go home." 

Jane stood. Patterson was right. She was no use to anyone at the NYO at the moment.  

"Yeah," she said. "You're probably right." 

*** 

Patterson spent most of the afternoon just reading through the massive amount of medical information stored on the drive until Reade came in and pulled the power cord from the monitor she'd been staring at. The afternoon had ended at some point and most of the lights had already been turned off in the lab. Patterson hadn't noticed when her team started to file out the door.  

"Hey!" Patterson cried as her screen went dark.  

"I've been calling your name for the last five minutes," Reade said. "Go home." He started to pull her chair out from her desk while she still sat in it. 

"Reade," Patterson protested. "I'm fine. I'm just going through all this data and I just need—" 

"No," Reade said. "You need to go home. You're going to burn yourself out and then you'll be of no use to anyone. Please, Patterson. Go home, have a drink, play one of your wizard games, get some sleep. Whatever you want. Just go home." 

"I'm fine, really!" 

Reade made a show of looking at his watch. It was almost 7 p.m. 

"What time did you get in this morning?"  

Patterson shook her head. "I don't know. Seven? Maybe 7:30?" 

"Go!" 

Reade followed Patterson to the locker room and watched her trade her lab coat for her purse. "You need to get a cat or something." 

"I'm never home and I'm allergic," she said with a sigh. "Why would I want a cat anyway?" 

"You have to feed a cat. And you'd have go home to do that." 

*** 

It seemed stupid that the apartment felt empty. Patterson had been living alone since California, minus that one amazing week when Tasha had shown up outside of her building. They weren't even dating anymore. Tasha hadn't spent a single overnight in this apartment. But it still felt empty. Part of that was probably because after a day like today, Patterson would have texted Tasha to come over and they would have uncorked some wine, eaten too much Thai food, and watched something horribly embarrassing like The Bachelor. But Tasha was gone and so the apartment felt empty and small.  

Patterson pulled a beer from the refrigerator. She couldn't remember buying this brand. Tasha must have brought it over the last time she'd been there. That had been at least two weeks ago now. She considered putting it back in the fridge and saving it for the next time the brunette visited, but Patterson didn't know when that might be. Maybe never. She popped the cap from the bottle and took a long swallow. It was definitely Tasha's beer. Patterson wouldn't have bought it. It was too hoppy for her taste. She took another swallow and pulled a container of leftover noodles from the fridge and a fork from a nearby drawer. She didn't bother to heat the food up; she just took it to the living room and turned on her game system. Far Cry 5 sounded like a good idea.  

After taking down a shrine and blowing up some Peggies' trucks, Patterson's mind began to wander. She completely missed Joseph Seed's men coming after her character and was immediately captured. She turned the game off and fell back against the couch. She stared at the ceiling for a few minutes. She wanted to talk to someone if only to empty out all of the heavy thoughts that kept intruding but she wasn't supposed to reach out to the person she wanted to talk to the most.  

Patterson got up and paced in the apartment. She turned on her computer and thought about connecting to the lab to go over the contents of the drive again but nixed that idea at the thought of Reade freaking out on her in the morning. He was remarkably easy going but she knew he meant business about her working so much. She did work too much. She freely admitted that but without work, though, Patterson wasn't sure what to do with herself. Especially now.   

She grabbed her phone and scrolled through her Twitter feed. She did the same on Instagram. She'd have checked Snapchat but the only person she Snapped with was Tasha, and she knew there was no point in looking. Tasha certainly wasn't on Snapchat right now. Her finger hovered over the text message button. She had no new messages but she wondered if there was any harm in sending a message to Tasha. To just say hi or let her know that she was thinking about her.  

Screw it, Patterson thought and clicked on the message button and selected the last conversation she'd had with Tasha.  

Hey. Your beer is disgusting. 

She waited to see if she'd get a reply from Tasha but had no idea where she might be. It was a little after 9 p.m. in New York. It could be the middle of the night wherever Tasha was. It could even be the middle of the day. She sighed and was ready to chuck her phone back on the couch when she decided to text again.  

Anyway, I just wanted to say hi. And I miss you. I hope you're good.  

She tossed her phone onto the couch and got up and headed to the bedroom to change out of her work clothes. She grabbed a worn-out t-shirt and pair of lounge pants from a drawer before heading back to the kitchen for another of Tasha's beers. She had other beer in the fridge but this bottle of hoppy grossness reminded her of Tasha and she liked that even if she hated the beer. She passed in front of a mirror as she returned to the living room and caught sight of her reflection. She'd absently put on the 96th Precinct t-shirt Tasha had once left behind. The shirt had traveled with her from New York to California and back to New York. Tasha had left it behind nearly 18 months ago. Patterson ran her hand over the logo and smiled at the memory.  

Patterson's phone vibrated insistently from somewhere on the couch. She'd carelessly tossed it when she'd gotten up but didn't see it. It had to be Reade checking in to make sure she wasn't working. Or worse, calling with more bad news about Jane and Weller. She quickly searched beneath the pillows and found it. She accepted the call without glancing at the caller ID.  

"Patterson," she said.  

"Zapata," the caller replied.  

Patterson was silent for a second while she registered the caller's voice. It couldn't be Tasha. She was somewhere else in the world and wouldn't be calling. And that meant someone was calling with news about her. She dropped heavily onto the couch. Something had happened.  

"Patterson?" The caller asked. 

"Yeah," Patterson replied. "What happened to her?" 

"To who?" 

"Tasha." 

The caller didn't respond immediately.  

"Patterson, it's me," Tasha said.  

"Tash?" 

Tasha laughed on the other end of the call. "Yeah, who did you think it was?" 

Patterson was shaking her head as if Tasha could see her. "It didn't sound like you! I couldn't find my phone and I didn't look at the caller ID and I thought it was Reade," she babbled. "Oh my god, I can't believe it's you!" 

"I got your texts," Tasha said. "My beer is not disgusting." 

"Yeah, okay," Patterson replied. "It's hoppy." 

"So why are you drinking it then?" 

"It reminds me of you, and it sort of tastes like you," Patterson admitted and blushed.  

Tasha made a clucking sound with her tongue and Patterson felt her heart skip a beat. It really was Tasha. She couldn't believe how much she missed talking to her.  

"Why would you expect Reade to call?" Tasha asked. "Is everything okay?" 

"What?" Patterson asked. 

"You said, you didn't look at the caller ID and you thought it was Reade. Why would you expect Reade to call?" 

Patterson realized that Tasha had no idea what had happened since she'd left. They hadn't spoken at all since that very brief phone call.  

"You don't know," Patterson said quietly as she remembered that Tasha had been gone while everything in New York felt like it was falling apart. "I forgot, you wouldn't know what's going on."  

"Patterson, you're scaring me," Tasha said. "What's going on there? Are you okay?" 

"I'm fine," Patterson said. "It's Weller. And Jane." 

Patterson recapped everything that had happened since Tasha signed her exit paperwork that day at the NYO, ending with Jane's ZIP poisoning and the medical information that Roman had left for Jane.  

"Everything's changed," Patterson confessed finally. "Weller, Jane, you. I don't know what to do and I'm scared for Jane and Weller. This is a puzzle I might not be able to solve. And my friend is gone and I miss her. And there's some new guy sitting at  her desk. I hate him. And everything... everything... sucks." 

"Oh, P," Tasha soothed. "Don't hate the new guy. It's not his fault he's not a gorgeous brunette who's brilliant and amazing in bed." 

Patterson wasn't expecting the last comment and burst out laughing.  

"Amazing seems a bit generous, don't you think?" Patterson teased, temporarily letting herself forget how awful everything seemed.  

Tasha joined Patterson's laughter and then resumed a more serious tone.  

"I forgot about the generous part," she said. Patterson could sense the wink that most likely accompanied Tasha's statement and smiled. She sighed then.  

"I miss you so much," Patterson said.  

"Me too," Tasha replied.  

They were both silent for a long time but rather than be uncomfortable in the silence, it felt good to just listen to the other breathe on the other end of the call.  

"Where are you right now?" Patterson asked finally. "Can you even tell me?"  

"Australia," Tasha said. "It's almost noon." 

"Hmm," Patterson replied quietly. "Australia is far away. I wish you were back in New York." 

"I know." 

Patterson heard someone knocking on a door somewhere in the background. She guessed Tasha was in a hotel room, and she realized how much their lives had changed in such a short period of time. She had no idea what Tasha was doing and if she was in any kind of danger. The feeling of awfulness flooded back to her.  

"Do you have to go?" Patterson asked.  

Tasha sighed. "I'm sorry." 

"You've got to work, I get it," Patterson replied. "Hey Tash?" 

"Yeah?" 

"I love you." 

"I love you, too," Tasha said.  

Patterson heard Tasha walking towards the door and then heard it swing open, the sweep dragging on the carpet. Tasha whispered something she wasn't able to make out.  

"I have to go," Tasha said.  

"Okay." 

And then Tasha was gone. Patterson slumped back onto the couch. She didn't think it would be possible but she actually felt worse after talking to Tasha. She wanted everything back the way it was and knew that was impossible. She felt tears start to well up in her eyes and she blinked them away. There was no sense crying about it. Once again, everything was changing. She'd have to either deal with it or change with it. She wasn't sure what she would do just yet.