Title: Nothing Gold

Author: Janine

Fandom: Dollhouse

Pairing: Claire, hints of Echo/Claire

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: I don't own them.

Summary: Claire used to remember what fun was …

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Claire's heart seized in her chest as a hand grasped her arm and squeezed. She came to a stop immediately, and stood stock still, her heart pounding in her chest as fear and panic washed over her. Not again, not again

"Claire!"

Claire blinked, her heart rate beginning to slow as the light, happy voice with a slight rasp registered with her. She knew that voice. It was Echo. There was no reason to be scared of Echo. She was safe. Everything was fine.

"Echo," Claire said, forcing herself to speak in a calm, relaxed tone, the vocal subterfuge actually helping to calm her a bit. "Is everything okay?" Claire asked, turning her head so that she could see the young brunette.

"Look!" Echo said smiling happily. And then she lifted her hands and held them in front of Claire's face and wiggled her fingers.

Claire smiled despite herself. The Doll's hands where covered in paint, and Claire released that she must have walked by during Art Time.

"Look at you," Claire said affectionately, lifting her hand and extending a finger to poke a dry patch of the paint that covered flesh on Echo's palm. "You're filthy," she continued, her eyes drifting to take in the rest of Echo, noticing the blotches of paint on her face, her collarbone, and scattered about her clothes.

"Its paint," Echo said, looking down at her hands and staring at them for a moment as if she was mesmerized by the swirling patterns of colour. "We're painting."

"Yes," Claire said smiling. "I can see that."

"Do you want to paint too?" Echo asked hopefully, large brown doe-eyes staring at Claire soulfully as Echo gazed at her, awaiting her answer.

"I'd love to Echo," Claire said softly, reaching out to rest her hand on the Doll's shoulder. "But I've got a lot of work to do," she continued regretfully, her eyes falling to the folders clutched in her hands.

"You're always working," Echo said, her eyebrows scrunching together. "You should have fun, too. Painting is fun. You should paint," Echo declared sagely, holding Claire's eyes as she made her diagnosis.

Claire stared at Echo for a moment, the young woman's words hitting her like a physical blow. Fun, she had almost forgotten what the word meant.

Claire glanced down, her expression darkening as she did and tried to remember the last time she done something mildly relaxing that wasn't lying on her couch reading with a glass of red wine.

She couldn't. And even her memories of relaxing with a good book and some alcohol were few and far between. It was hard to relax at home when she spent two or three nights a week sleeping on the couch in her office. Of course, 'home' wasn't really so much home, as it was a sterile, lonely place where she kept the things she didn't have room for in her office.

"What are you painting?" Claire asked softly, blinking in Echo's direction as she tried to get her eyes to focus on the young Doll.

"Found objects," Echo replied distractedly, her eyes wondering around them. "Sierra's painting a rock. I think that's boring."

"What did you find to paint?" Claire asked smiling, not sure if she was more amused by the fact that Sierra was painting a rock, or by the fact that Echo found it so distasteful.

"You," Echo declared grasping Claire's hands and holding them tightly. "You're much better than a rock. Or a chair," she added, causing Claire to look at her bemusedly. "That's what I was painting before," Echo explained. "But I like you better."

"Better? Then a chair?" Claire asked, charmed even though being better than a chair wasn't much of a compliment.

"Much better," Echo said nodding. "Will you come? Art Time is almost over. We don't have long."

Claire directed her gaze past Echo, towards the railing of the staircase and then over it to the floor where the Dolls were gathered, hunched over papers, blissful smiles on their faces as their hands moved over white paper leaving trails of colour in their wake.

"Okay," Claire breathed out, surprising herself.

"Good," Echo said.

Then, still holding Claire's hands, Echo led them back down the stairs and over to the area where she had been doing her painting.

Echo sat on the floor, and Claire followed suit, carefully arranging herself on the brown mats covering the hardwood floor.

Echo reached to the side and took up two blank pieces of white paper. She placed one in front of Claire, and then one in front of herself before she retrieved paints for them as well.

"You start to paint first, and then I'll paint you painting," Echo said, looking across at Claire thoughtfully. "You look interesting when you're concentrating."

"Interesting?" Claire asked, surprised and uncertain about the Doll's choice of words.

Echo was silent for a moment, her face contorting in thought.

"Nice," the Doll said finally. "You look nice. I like to look at you like that, when you have many thoughts. It's interesting to watch you, and wondering what you're thinking about."

"Oh," Claire said, surprised and yet oddly pleased by Echo's answers.

Echo paid more attention to her than the other Dolls, but Claire hadn't thought that the Doll gave her much thought when she was out of her sight. The Dolls didn't tend to give much thought to anything that wasn't right in front of them that very moment. That was their blessing, and their curse.

"Did I say something wrong?" Echo asked, picking up on the uncertainty in Claire's tone.

"No," Claire assured her with a smile. "What should I paint?" she asked, trying to remember the last time she had held a paint brush in her hands. She couldn't remember, though she suspected that it must have been in High School.

Echo's shoulders slumped over and her lips parted slightly as a serious look of concentration came over her face. Claire watched her contemplate the question and tried not to smile too much. The Dolls could be so darling at times, so very precious. She envied them sometimes. There were so many things in her life that she'd love to forget.

"My slipper," Echo said slowly, looking down at her foot speculatively before she reached for the slipper in question and yanked it off of her foot, depositing it beside Claire's piece of paper a moment later.

"That's not much better than a rock," Claire said, glancing over at Echo.

Echo's eyes widened and she stared at Claire. Claire gazed back at her guilelessly for a few moments, but then she smiled, letting Echo know that she was joking, and the Doll smiled back her.

Claire dipped the tip of her brush in the container of water resting between herself and Echo, and then dipped it into one of the paints. She swirled the brush around for a moment, getting it coated and then she brought it to the piece of paper and began to paint.

Claire was surprised by how disappointed she was when Tanner called an end to Art Tim far too soon for Claire's liking. She wasn't much of an artist, but drawing a slipper hadn't tested her skills too much, and she had gone on to paint an apple, and a ficus plant that was tucked away at the edge of the room by the stairs.

"Did you have fun?" Echo asked looking over at Claire curiously as she rotely began to clean up the supplies around her area.

"Yes," Claire said smiling, the expression actually reaching her eyes. "I did. Thank you," she continued, watching Echo bend and stretch, feeling lighter and happier than she had in longer than she could remember.

Once the supplies were tucked away, Echo stood and then offered her hand to Claire, helping her up.

"You have to go now," Echo said sadly as Claire bent to retrieve the files she had placed carefully to the side before joining Echo on the floor.

"Yes," Claire said, feeling her mood plummet at the thought of going back to work.

Work was usually her sanctuary, but at the moment it was far less appealing than sitting around with Echo painting. It had been nice, to be idle and free for a while, to be in the company of another person without talking about neurons and chemical responses and financing requests.

She knew that it was a bit ridiculous, but she liked Echo. The Dolls were Half-life's, both there and not there, Claire knew this. She was aware that she was only seeing a shadow of the person Echo could be and less than that of the person Echo had been. But Claire still preferred Echo's company to many of the fully-intact people she knew.

Echo bent down and scooped up the piece of paper she had been painting on.

"Here," Echo said extending her hand towards Claire, the painting dangling from her fingertips.

Claire shoved the files she was holding under her arm and reached out to take the picture, holding it carefully. Echo had managed to make an impressively detailed painting in the short amount of time they had had to paint. On the paper, Claire saw herself in the soft, muted tones of water colour. Her legs were tucked neatly to the side, mindful of the skirt she was wearing, and one of her hands was braced on the floor supporting her weight, while the other hovered over the paper beneath her with a paint brush clutched in slim, tapered fingers. She was hunched over the paper, her chestnut coloured hair falling in front of her face, obscuring it from sight as she worked.

Claire stared at the painting silently for a moment, overcome for a second by a wave of emotion that she couldn't categorize. She focused on the picture once more, and thought that she looked almost peaceful in it. She looked dazed, captivated, and tranquil. She looked almost innocent, almost content.

"Thank you," Claire said, blinking against tears that were suddenly forming in her eyes. She tried to keep her voice steady, but she could hear the roughness in it and knew that she had failed.

"Echo!" Tanner called, making his way over to the young brunette. "Fall in," he said when he reached her side, his military roots showing as he nodded to the other Dolls who were lined up waiting for her so that they could move on to their next activity.

"I have to go now," Echo said looking over at Claire, her eyes holding the doctor's for a moment as if there was something more she wanted to say, but was holding herself back because of Tanner's presence.

"Have fun," Claire said, smiling softly. Echo hesitated, and Claire knew that she had sensed the emotional upheaval her painting had caused, and wanted to make sure that Claire was okay. Echo's concern threatened to bring tears to her eyes again, and Claire forced herself to keep smiling, and breathe out, "It's okay. Go on," to Echo, as she inclined her head towards the waiting Dolls.

"Is everything alright, Dr. Saunders?" Tanner asked as Echo began to make her way towards the others. "I wasn't informed that you would be visiting our class today."

"Everything's fine," Claire said, her voice dropping into a coolly professional tone. She dipped her head, allowing her hair to fall forward and cover part of her face. "It wasn't an official review. Echo saw me, and asked if I wanted to paint. I suggested the therapeutic art sessions, and I thought that I would try it out and see if it really works."

"Does it?" Tanner asked curiously, though his gaze shifted over to the waiting Dolls as he spoke. He needed to get them to their next activity. They were already late, and it wasn't a good idea to leave them without a specified task for too long. They got bored easily, and when they got bored they wandered.

"For a while," Claire murmured, her gaze shifting away from his, before she painted a friendly smile on her face. "I won't keep you any longer," she continued a moment later, her eyes drifting to the waiting Dolls for a moment. Then she inclined her head towards him and turned on her heels, making her way back towards the staircase that would take her to her office.

It was nice while it lasted, but it couldn't stay. Nothing gold could stay, not for her. The Dollhouse was for Dolls, not broken, misfit toys.

The End