Title: Whiskey Forever
Genre: Drama, h/c
Characters: Topher, Ballard, Whiskey
Spoilers: Lots for 1x11 and 1x12. Takes place immediately after Omega.
Author's Notes: For the DollhouseFics Summer Prompt Challenge '09
Prompt: Another Deal with the Devil
Topher couldn't close the file.
Well, no, not couldn't, he was physically capable of closing it of course and it wasn't like the computer was malfunctioning or anything, but he hadn't closed the file. Not yet. It just sat there, open on his desktop, with that perfect smiling face mocking him as he went about his business, checking imprints, grabbing snacks, scrubbing the microwave for god's sake, doing anything he had to that didn't involve sitting at that particular computer station, looking at that particular face. Finally it was night. The Actives were nestled all tight in their pods and everyone but security was gone for the night. In the quiet, dim light of the sleeping dollhouse Topher finally sat at his computer and finished opening the file.
More pictures immediately assaulted him accompanied by names, background information, medical history, all of which he knew off by heart, every word. He maximized one of the pictures, his favorite of her laughing at something, maybe even him, as she sat on the couch in her sweats. As he traced the curve of her jaw on the screen he felt a tear threaten to break the emotionless façade that he worked so hard on. Unwilling to let that happen he turned from the screen and headed for the desk behind him to work on something else, anything else.
"Oh god! Jesus!" Topher shouted, jumping in the air, more surprised than usual for being caught at an emotionally vulnerable time. "You, tall man! No! No sneaking! Not allowed!"
Paul Ballard was halfway in the room and Topher somehow hadn't noticed. Paul took a half-step back but looked mildly amused, "Hey, calm down. So, I guess you're not just jumpy after being tasered then? This is your natural state, huh?"
"I'm jumpy after things go horribly, incredibly, fantastically wrong in my life LIKE being tasered, having a psycho break in here and then having Cl…" Topher just barely stopped his rant as his throat lodged with emotion and then changed directions. "What do you want?"
"I wanted to ask you some more questions about Alpha. You understand this imprinting business the best I figured … Katie Brink?"
Topher had been too busy trying to calm himself down to notice Ballard getting closer to the still open file on his computer, which he was now studying intently. Stomach dropping he rushed over to try to close it but Ballard blocked him with a strong arm, then stood up, towering over Topher as he demanded clarification, "Dr. Saunders is a doll?"
No need to hide it now, so Topher threw up his arms, "Yes, okay. Alpha killed the original Doc Saunders and Whiskey was too scarred to be an Active so … it made sense. Sue us for being practical!"
"But, Katie Brink? That's … are you related?"
"Topher, hey, it's me," a soft, guarded voice answered.
"Kate, what's wrong?" he asked, cell phone pushing closer into his ear.
"I broke up with Dave. He … the bastard cheated on me," she admitted, suddenly getting loud and angry.
"Son of a bitch," Topher replied softly. "You've gotta be kidding me? On you? On the prettiest girl on the planet? Man, he is a lot dumber than I thought and that is really saying something because I pretty much originally had him on the same level as small primates and several species of feline."
He got the desired laugh he had been hoping for, "Well, no need to start insulting the felines of this world but yes, he is that dumb. And you are the sweetest little brother ever. How about you come over here and eat ice cream with me?"
"I can do that but I draw the line at you braiding my hair."
"It looked so cute last time," she complained with fake disappointment.
"The facebook pictures still haunt me. I'll buy you ice cream instead. Be there in a few minutes," he promised.
"Rocky road," she reminded him.
"You're talking to a super-genius here Kate, I can remember your favorite ice cream. Now, where I left my keys is an entirely other matter."
She laughed again and he loved to hear it, "Okay, I'll see you soon."
"Yes, very soon, keys can't be far. I'll talk to you later Kater!"
"She's my sister," he admitted softly, gazing intently at the floor.
Ballard's eyes widened in horrified disbelief, "Your sister? Your sister is a doll? That is … wow. This place just keeps getting better and better. So what was it, you wanted this job so bad you threw your sister in as a signing bonus?"
Topher surprised himself more than Ballard when he pushed the taller man, hard, causing him to hit the back wall, "Shut up! You don't know anything about me and you don't get to talk about her!"
Ballard was surprised but unhurt by the assault and shrugged it off, "All right, well then you explain it to me. How is it anything but incredibly wrong to work for the people who keep your sister as a slave?"
"Because it's not her! And because I didn't have a choice! I … she … she was gone, okay."
"I'm so sorry Mr. Brink, the vehicle collided with your sister's car head on. She'll survive the injuries but I'm afraid there's no brain activity. She's gone."
"Where did she go?" Ballard asked when Topher was silent for too long.
The genius collapsed into his chair, exhausted from re-living the memory, "Nowhere. She just wasn't there. She … there was a car accident, she was actually mostly okay except for the brain damage … brain death. She had no brain activity, she was just gone."
He stood outside her hospital room, looking through the window while the respirator breathed for her and she lay so still. Sleeping, she was only sleeping. Any second now she would wake up and she would be alive, Kate was always so alive. Telling animated stories, sky-diving, rock-climbing, she even took martial arts, she was just always living, always out there. He lived through her as he hid away in his lab and she told him about her latest adventures, about Australia and Peru and Greece, and about where she was going to go next. She was going to see everything, absolutely everything because she was unstoppable. Absolutely unstoppable.
The doctors said she was brain dead. He had seen the scans himself, understood them better than her doctors most likely. He unfortunately had to agree, the damage was severe, his sister was gone, but she was also still alive, sleeping. He had looked at the scans closely and it could work, she could be as unstoppable as before – she was still alive in there somewhere and he was going to wake her up.
Before continuing Topher briefly wondered why it was so easy to tell this stranger, his attacker earlier in the night, such personal information. Maybe because he had to get it out, maybe because Ballard was a stranger but most likely because there was absolutely no one else who would even listen.
"They said I had two options, I could leave her on the respirator or I could let her go," Topher explained.
"So you chose a third option?" Ballard surmised. "To make her a doll."
Topher shrugged like it was the most obvious thing in the world, "I couldn't let her go."
"Hi, I um … do you have a minute?"
DeWitt looked up from her computer, surprised to see Topher standing shyly by the door instead of barging in as usual. Her features softened though, she had heard about his sister.
"Of course Topher, come in."
He walked hesitantly, wringing his hands as he sat down, studying the floor intently.
"What can I do for you? If you need … time, it's totally understandable."
"No it's not that," he answered instantly. "I just … I had a question. If … we make our Actives sign contracts right?"
"Of course," she replied, leaning back stiffly.
"What happens if someone … qualifies to be an Active but they can't sign a contract?"
Her chest tightened in sympathy but she could see the resolution, the grief in his eyes, "Well, in that rare instance I suppose signatory power would be transferred to the next of kin."
He nodded his head, sighing in relief then met her gaze, "In that case I have a candidate for you."
"You actually thought it would be easier? Seeing her everyday, as someone else?" Ballard asked in disbelief.
Topher nodded, smiling sadly, "It was easier. She was alive, she was walking, talking, living this amazing life. Sure, she didn't remember me but she was taken care of, better than anything I could ever give her otherwise. And I held on to this ridiculous hope …"
"Hope for what?" Ballard questioned, pulling up a chair of his own as he saw the fight had left the broken young man.
"The same hope you have, that people's souls can't be erased. That … something survives," Topher elaborated, then laughed pathetically at himself. "God, that sounds like a bad horror movie or something."
"Well, this whole place kind of reminds me of a bad horror movie," Ballard agreed, but then had to know. "So, does it? Does any of the original person survive?"
"For awhile I thought it did."
"Hello Whiskey, are you ready for your treatment?"
She smiled at him. He always prayed for a glimpse of recognition in that smile, of familiarity, of anything, but it was always the same blank smile that she gave everyone and as always he felt it crushing him.
"Yes, thank you. We had ice cream at lunch," she announced as a way of filling the silence.
"That's great," he muttered as he leaned her back in the chair. "What did you have?"
The chair started to buzz as she replied, "Rocky road."
Then she was wiped. Replaced by a Black Ops spy with cold eyes and a colder personality.
"The ice cream thing, it threw me at first. It was Kate's favorite, but it didn't mean anything really. Taste buds don't change with personality. Rocky road would still have tasted delicious, no matter what personality was in her," Topher pointed out sadly, mad for allowing himself to hope even for a little while that his sister had still existed somewhere within Whiskey.
"How did she become Saunders?"
"Alpha attacked her first, before anyone else, gave her those scars, then killed the real Doc Saunders. She couldn't be sent on engagements any more so normally in those circumstances we consider an Active's contract broken. Their time's up, they go home with full payment, only …"
"You didn't have an original self copy of your sister," Ballard surmised. "She had no one to become."
Topher nodded, "So, DeWitt gave me the choice. Imprints aren't supposed to be permanent but I was told I could make her our new doctor or she could just be Whiskey forever. Never learning, never growing, just existing, here in this place. I figured Kate would want to help people if she had the choice or not."
"From what you've described of your sister, Dr. Saunders doesn't seem much like her," Paul pointed out.
"That's because she's not."
It had been three days since Alpha's attack. Whiskey had been stitched up but the cuts were going to scar, just like everything else in Topher's life. He hurt when he looked at them. He had brought his sister here to be safe, to be cared for and this had happened. He had caused her more pain, and it was his fault, it was his imprints that had messed with Alpha's head, or a mistake he made when he wiped him – whatever it was he was the computer guy, it had to be his fault.
"Hello Whiskey," he greeted her, waving off her handler to give her the treatment alone. She nodded but didn't smile, now she only ever frowned. She was stuck in perpetual sadness. She sat in the chair automatically but he didn't turn it on, instead he pulled forward his computer chair to sit with her at the same level.
"Before I give you your treatment I just wanted to say that … I'm sorry about this. This is all my fault, I'm the reason you're here and somehow, I don't know how, I'm the reason this happened to you. I did something wrong, I must have, I can't figure out what but I screwed it all up. I've screwed up so much Kate, I screwed it all up for you and … I'm gonna try to fix it, somehow. You have every reason to hate me but I'm so sorry and … and you don't understand any of this," he finished, tears trailing down as he took in her blank expression.
"I don't hate you," she said simply, blinking owlishly.
"Well, you should," he closed his eyes and hit the button. "Later Kater."
"I couldn't stand it if she was like Kate, not after what happened to her. So I made Claire totally different, still nice but shy, hesitant … and I made her hate me so that she wouldn't try to be my friend or come to me for advice because then I'd … I'd just screw her life up even more."
Topher looked up in surprise when Ballard actually huffed, "That's bullshit. You made her hate you so she'd stay away and you wouldn't have to see her and feel guilty. That or you did it to punish yourself. Either way, you didn't do it for her. It's not good for anybody to hate someone."
"Maybe not," Topher shrugged. "It doesn't really matter now, she knows she's a doll."
"Is that allowed? Can she stay here knowing or will you just wipe her again, start new?"
"That's DeWitt's call. It shouldn't change anything though, she's embracing her job I think. She knows who she is now, she just doesn't know who she was," Topher explained.
"And you're not going to tell her?"
"She doesn't want to know," Topher replied simply then his gaze shifted to the computer screen for a moment and Ballard thought he saw tears starting to form there. "I … I think I owe you an apology though."
"Don't worry about it, you didn't push me that hard. Besides, I did taser you," Paul pointed out.
"Not for that. Earlier – and this is very, very hard for me to say, so, feel special - you said you didn't think a person's soul could be wiped away. You were pretty adamant about it and I … I shot you down, way harshly, because I thought you were wrong. You may have been on to something though. Alpha's past proved that and …"
It sounded like Topher was about to touch on something personal again, he was still staring wide-eyed at his computer screen so Ballard decided to push just a little, "And what?"
"Have you ever tried to log onto my computer?" Topher asked suddenly, seemingly changing the topic.
"Uh no. Alpha did though. Said you were paranoid, had all kinds of passwords, even made me find a different computer for him to use," Ballard replied.
Topher nodded, "Sounds about right, I've got some pretty bitchin' safeties on this thing. These are my personal passwords, no one knows 'em, they aren't written down anywhere. Claire broke them all to break into her file, in probably less than ten minutes. The thing is, I never imprinted her with any computer skills."
But Ballard didn't follow, "So what, she's evolved like Echo? Has latent abilities from her original self?"
"No, Kate always sucked at computers. She called me to refill her printer once," Topher laughed softly at the memory. "The only way to get past my passwords is to know what they are … to know me and all my wonderful eccentricities well enough to guess them. And nobody knew me that well except … well, you know. So, I'm sorry, because I think you're right. I think their soul might just survive. And I think I might have sold my sister's to the Dollhouse."
Hope you enjoyed. I'm sad and going to go eat ice cream now.