Safe Haven wasn't what they had expected, but it was indeed a safe haven, and there was nothing more that they wanted from it. Furthermore, it was real, which already made it exceed Hayden's hopes.
They were welcomed into headquarters by an aging woman in a wheelchair who introduced herself as Caroline. She and the others in charge were clearly accustomed to newcomers entering with a little bit of shell shock, so Hayden's reflexive aggression and Q's nervous tics didn't cause as much trouble as they could have. "You just need some time to calm down," said Caroline. "We all did."
So it was dinner, sleep, and a tour before stories were finally exchanged in a comfortable ground-level common room. A man named Ballard, who wore a brown coat and hovered around Caroline a lot, was the first to inquire, but instead of expecting a complete tale from them, he simply asked, "What did you see?"
Hayden glanced at Q to see if she was up to reliving it, and she gave him a small nod in response and took the floor. "I saw dolls," she said. "People I used to know, only it's been so long and they were still wiped. Or they were wiped again, I don't know. And the people who were controlling them…well, they weren't Butchers. I honestly think they were Actuals. They just found these Actives, or made them somehow, and decided they were going to use them for God knows what. Sex, probably. The sky is falling and all they're thinking about is screwing girls who can't tell them to stop."
"We had to kill a few of the guys to get out," Hayden put in. "Nothing we could do about the Actives, though."
Caroline had a sympathetic nod for that confession, but she was listening to Q with great intensity. "You say you used to know them?"
"Some of them. Not their real selves, but from the time I was in the Manhattan Dollhouse. This girl Zulu, she walked right up to me and said, 'Hello, Quebec.' I almost screamed. And there was a Tango, and a Yankee, and an Echo…"
"Echo!" repeated Caroline, leaning forward in her wheelchair with excitement. "Describe her!"
Q furrowed her brow, thinking about it. "Black girl, pretty tall, late twenties…"
Hayden noted Caroline's disappointment, but she was clearly beyond dwelling on it. "My body was an Echo," she explained in response to their confused looks. "Yeah, I'm not really as old as I look."
After all this time it shouldn't have come as a surprise when people were not who they appeared to be, but Hayden had fallen under the impression that everyone in Safe Haven—except for Q, of course—had never been wiped or imprinted. How Caroline could have ended up in an old and broken body, he couldn't guess, but her desire to get back to her own was completely understandable.
"Funny," said Q. "You've got your mind but lost your body. I'm the exact opposite."
Ballard gave her a crooked smile. "Sounds to me like you've got a pretty functional mind in there," he said.
"I keep telling her that," Hayden agreed.
Caroline smiled, but waved a hand to quiet them and addressed Q again. "I'm going to let you in on something about the Haven, but you both have to promise to keep it secret."
Hayden and Q shared an uncertain look; they had learned to be careful with people who wanted secrets kept. This place was different, though, so they both turned back to Caroline and voiced their assent.
"We have a chair," she said. After pausing to let that sink in, she went on to say, "And about two hundred wedges salvaged from Dollhouses around the country. If you find yours, you're welcome to use it."
Q's jaw had dropped, and after he had observed that, Hayden realized that his own mouth was open too. They had more or less given up years ago on finding Q's wedge, and he was unprepared for fortune to turn this way. All they had sought here was the means to live out their lives in relative peace, but now Q might have options about which life it was she would be living.
They searched the storage room together and found the wedge together. The information on the case included not only the word 'Quebec,' but also the address of the Manhattan facility, a long identification number that faintly stirred Hayden's memory, the date that Q had first been wiped, and the completely alien name 'Lena Caraway.' It was hers without doubt. After reading the case, she was frozen solid for a few seconds, and then slumped to the floor, clutching it to her chest and crying profusely.
Not long afterward, Hayden paced around the Haven's gardens—real vegetable gardens, with real sunlight—while waiting for her procedure to be finished. There was no point in trying to make himself concentrate on anything else. He knew that her memories couldn't change the person she was at her core, but there were so many years to her past that neither of them had known about. Her perspective about the time they had spent together might change drastically. Perhaps she would discover something or someone that mattered to her more than anything else.
Well, if she did, he would help her find it. That was his part in her life; always had been.
She was gone for a long time, and pacing did nothing to distract him from going backward through a montage of his own memories of Q. The good ones, days of laughter and passion that seemed by their very nature to be an act of defiance against the apocalypse surrounding them. The bad ones, all too numerous and vivid, but never enough to rip them away from each other.
Then there were the memories they never spoke of, because although they could both recall them, Q hadn't really been there. She had held his hand and said her lines and smiled at him with overpowering but artificially induced trust, but she hadn't been his Q, just a doll who wore her face.
Hidden away even deeper in his heart were the times that she didn't remember at all. The only blessing of the Dollhouse was that she never would; for her they were the memories of other people, women invented by a programmer and probably at this point lost forever. But Hayden could recall each one of them, and the way they would talk to him so casually of their engagements still came back to him with a little bit of inexplicable awe. One day they would be riding home in the van and she would be chattering about how much she loved her boyfriend, the next day, they were taking the exact same ride but the talk was about an entirely different boyfriend who she apparently loved just as much. If she was imprinted as a professional in a trade, she would treat him as a respected colleague; if she was in her dominatrix outfit she might flirt a little, and almost definitely drop some unwanted details about her sexual encounter.
He had put his own life on the line to protect her, more than once, long before the day that she said she had a surprise for her husband and he realized with horror that he was jealous. For months after that he had managed to suppress it, along with any other emotions that a handler should absolutely not have. But the need to keep her safe was neither taboo nor resistable, and he had felt nothing but righteous in his decision to leave his job behind and allow Quebec to choose who she wanted to trust.
It was at that thought that he heard footsteps coming toward him at a run, and he looked up to see Q, alone, anxiety painted on her features. He dashed down the garden's path to meet her halfway, and she flung herself into his arms and squeezed him hard before letting go to look up into his eyes. "Hayden," she gasped, out of breath, "I have to talk to you."
"What is it? What do you remember?"
"Nothing, no, that's just it. I didn't go through with it." She gripped his shoulders with both hands. "I've been talking to them all this time and they explained it. The wedge doesn't work the way we thought. It's got my identity and my memories up until the time I was wiped, but it doesn't make room for any memories I made since then. It's a total reset. Either/or."
The revelation was crushing, but Hayden forced himself to comprehend its full implications, for Q's sake. He knew what she was asking of him, and he knew he had to do it. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and then smiled at her and gently kissed her forehead. "Take the imprint, Q. Make yourself some notes first, and I'll be here to tell you the truth about everything that's happened, and if it's meant to be, you and I can start over. You deserve to know your history."
"What?" Q gave him a bizarre expression of mixed emotion, affront and amusement on top. She punched his arm. "You dolt. I already destroyed the wedge."
Not trusting himself to speak, Hayden put his hands around her face and then rubbed them up and down her arms, trying to swallow the lump in his throat. To destroy that legendary wedge…
"I lost myself once," Q explained, a bit of a quaver in her own voice. "I won't do it again. My name is Quinn Singer. Lena Caraway died a long time ago, and nobody is going to raise her from the dead in my body or any other."
Hayden nodded slowly, but the enormity of it all prevented him from complete belief, and he choked out the first objection that came to mind. "You might still have people out there. Family who misses you."
"I have family here," she said calmly. "Nothing's missing anymore, Hayden. I'm real and you're real, and what we have is real, and I'm not going to sacrifice it now that we finally have the time to enjoy it. Besides," she added, leaning her head against his chest and settling into his embrace, "I'm pretty sure you're the only one who can handle me."
"That's my job," he whispered. "That's why I'm here."
Author's Note: So that's it for this one. Not sure if I'll ever write another Dollhouse fic, but I think it was worth it to try it out. Much thanks to my readers (all two of you), Joss Whedon for making me crazy wondering what Summer Glau and Alexis Denisof are going to be up to this year, and my favorite Ween album for inspirational music (if you're familiar with the band I bet you can guess which album it is).
Everyone raise the roof for the season premier tomorrow! (Yeah, I know I said the last chapter was going to be posted on Friday. I forgot how to count. It's a problem I have.) Oh, and if you've been reading without reviewing, I'm telling your mother. But thank you for the interest anyway.