Chapter 3 – Dr. Claire Saunders

"Sleeping at your desk, doc?"

Dr. Saunders opened her eyes quickly to see Topher Brink standing in front of her with a smile that seemed particularly inappropriate at such a time. She didn't remember falling asleep in her office chair but once the dull pain in her face became apparent, she realized that it was probably a good thing she dozed off since sleep tonight would be hard to come by.

"I'm afraid the day's events have been rather trying," she said, standing up brusquely as if to prove that she was awake enough to keep working. "You weren't attacked with a knife today," she noted in an eerily serene tone.

She walked over to the cabinets and started setting up multiple medical trays with mechanical accuracy, only briefly stopping to touch the corner of the scar bisecting her lips. The snitches weren't perfect but they were effective and she started trying to recall how long it had been since she took some painkillers, finding that she couldn't remember at all.

"A good day is a scar-free one," Topher said with a comical note of joy.

Suddenly there was a loud clang as Dr. Saunders dropped a bunch of tools onto one of the metal trays and Topher jumped. There was a short pregnant silence until, almost simultaneously, they both sighed deeply, Topher having realized how insensitive his comment was and Dr. Saunders trying to stifle a harsh response.

"If you're done standing there reminding me how unfortunate my day has been, could you send someone in who needs actual help? I have a lot to do," she said curtly, her back still facing him as she tried to reorganize her fallen supplies.

"I'm sorry," he murmured weakly, truly feeling remorseful.

The clanking instruments stopped as Dr. Saunders turned her head around, showing how truly sad she was for a mere second before she responded with a composed, "Please."

Defeated, Topher walked out of the office thinking that he really must be the king of first impressions.

For the first few days after Claire Saunders started working at the Dollhouse, barely anyone saw her. She remained in her office almost exclusively and would pass on requests to the kitchen to have attendants bring her meals in her office under the excuse that she had a lot of things to do since the Alpha incident. All day he saw people going in and coming out but the only sign he ever saw of Dr. Saunders was the wisp of a white lab coat passing by the frosted windows.

He hadn't tried to make her so much of a hermit so he assumed the reason she was acting even more antisocial than he had intended was because of the trauma from what had happened, which was completely reasonable. She did come out once to ask DeWitt directly about Samuelson's body which had been lying in her office long enough for the Actives to start asking questions but for the most part she had disappeared.

That was why he had initially nicknamed her "The Phantom."

After a few weeks, Topher started to notice that as much as he watched everyone from his little tower above the action, she watched from her own stance on the ground. Like him, she didn't just watch the Actives either. The first time he saw her looking at him, he was thrown for a second but then recovered and waved at her, causing her to disappear without any kind of reciprocation and he found himself a little offended. Then again, if someone caught him watching them and made it known that they saw him, he might freak out too. That was part of being the observer. You live outside.

When she first came to his office, it had been so long since he had really seen her without distorted glass in the way that he had forgotten entirely about her scars. It didn't help that she entered like a ninja with silent footsteps, peeking around the wall at him like she does from her office. All he saw was the scarred countenance of Whiskey, forgetting about Dr. Saunders all together, and he legitimately thought he was being spied on by a vengeful ghost.

He might have fallen out of his chair shouting, "Demon."


He was also rather good at second impressions.

"I just wanted to tell you to keep an eye on Lima's repeat engagements. She's been very busy lately and I think a philanthropy assignment would be good for her."

And with that she was gone.

Dr. Saunders was a wonderful creation but the more he actually saw her, the less he thought of her as an imprint.

He really amazed himself with her. Often he was allotted at least a week to make an imprint for regular paying engagements although it usually only took him a few hours. The process consisted of a lot of tracking down and adjusting every little detail about an imprint to fit the client's needs but then after that it was just recheck, consider margin for error, and check again until he was sure it was exactly what was needed and the imprint was ready for take-off.

With Dr. Saunders he had barely an hour and very few specifics to work with. Specific details actually make creating an imprint easier; without them, hell, he could have given her the ability to build an atomic bomb with her feet while doing a handstand if he wanted although that kind of skill would be just a little excessive.

And yet, even though he had essentially thrown her together, she was exactly what they needed. She was perfect.

For her job.

He really started noticing this when eventually the fact that she had been cloistering herself for over a month started to bother him and he began making excuses to try to get himself used to her, if for no other reason than the fact that he didn't want to have another "ghost of Whiskey" moment. On the way to get food from the kitchen he would pass by her office and give her a nod or a wave but moved on hastily and heedlessly. He never really stuck around to see if she would respond but he assumed she wouldn't.

From there, he started going into her office to get files on the Actives or harmless medicines. He rarely had anything in particular to look at in terms of the files but usually whatever file he pulled would strike up some kind of conversation.

"Why do you need Quebec's folder?" she asked, stepping around from behind the dark bookshelf.

Topher jumped slightly. He would never get used to her entrances but at least he didn't scream at her this time.

"Hi, Dr. Saunders," he said jovially, grinning as he tried to think up an excuse on the spot. "Um, I'm just checking up on his medical history since he's going to be released soon."

"In a year," she corrected flatly, thoroughly unconvinced.

"Huh, well, you have a good memory!" he said chuckling.

"What do you need the file for?" she repeated, looking up at him inquisitively. She had very little tolerance for him when he beat around the bush. This was the third time he had come into the office for something without really telling her why he needed it.

"Oh, uh, nosebleed," he said firmly, nodding excessively. "He had one. There was blood . . . coming out of his nose." He made a motion with his hand that implied a torrent streaming from his face.

"When he returned from his engagement?" she filled in, taking a seat at her desk.

"Yes!" he said avidly, pointing at her with the file. "And I was checking his medical file to see if he has hypertension because you know, hypertension can lead to a stroke and there's always a possibility of a tumor in his coconut and if something's not right upstairs, that's my department," he spat out quickly. The idea of an Active having hypertension was, of course, ridiculous but he had to find some way of tying everything back to him.

"If I thought Quebec's engagements were causing severe problems, I would have let you know by now," she assured him. "Did you not get one of these?" she asked, holding up one her weekly reports that had been sitting on her desk.

Topher hadn't checked his mail in two years.

"No, but thanks," he said, taking the paper. "I can always use good bathroom reading material."

Dr. Saunders looked away from him and sighed. She took her reports pretty seriously. Well, she took most things pretty seriously. In a way, he admired that about her. Intense situations have a tendency to make him uncomfortable and when he gets uncomfortable, a stream of uncontrollable jokes just comes out, preventing anyone from taking him seriously. He actually really liked to be around serious people because they balanced him out so well but he did wish she could lighten up for just a second. Maybe smile every once in a while.

"Do you need anything else?" she asked indifferently, typing something into her computer, already back to work.

Topher opened his mouth for a second but ended up just inhaling deeply. Hesitantly, he put the file and report down on her examination table and strolled over to the front of her desk.

"Can I ask you a question?"

"You can ask," she said glancing up at him, implying that an answer would not be a guarantee. From his tone it sounded like he was going to ask her something personal and she was not going to freely open herself up to anyone.

"Have you ever thought about . . ." He couldn't comfortably finish his question. "You know," he added uneasily for lack of a better phrase.

Dr. Saunders gave him a look that showed she very much did not know and Topher motioned to his own face.

"Fixing the . . ." He tried to spit out 'scars' but he wasn't entirely sure how touchy she was about them and he didn't want to offend her and make her dislike him any more than she already did.

"Oh," she said softly, turning away from him for a second as if she was trying to hide a face. "As of right now, I don't really feel a pressing need to," she answered honestly.

"But if you had one. . ." he wondered, trying to figure out if she could even define what would cause such a need. She was supposed to want nothing but to do her job.

"Why would I?" she asked as if she speculated that Topher already had a list of reasons why it would be a good idea. He did love to have lists that prove his point.

"I don't know," he admitted after a short pause, shrugging his shoulders. He had genuinely been wondering if Dr. Saunders would turn out to be the kind of person who would want to fix her face as soon as possible. She was very meticulous and precise in her work and while that did apply to her appearance in terms of how she dressed, the scars were a separate element all together. They were like a further protection against outside forces.

It was curious.

It also made him wonder what would happen when her contract is up although he had been trying not to think about that too much. For now, Dr. Saunders was a real person and that was how he was going to treat her.

There was a pregnant silence as he shuffled his feet and she, unwilling to be made to feel awkward, picked up her pen and started writing something on her desk calendar.

"I'm going to go plug up my mouth with food," Topher interjected. "Do you want to . . .?"

"I have work to do," she interrupted, not looking up.

Mission to get her involved in house activities: failed.

"Right. Sorry," he said practically speaking on top of her. "Uh, bye."

He nodded at her even though she wasn't looking and left the office forgetting completely about Quebec's file and Dr. Saunders' weekly report.

Boyd was complaining again.

One would think he was Echo's father from the way he was so overprotective of her, Topher thought as he walked out of his office, Boyd's voice coming through his headset. Samuelson was not nearly so concerned with every little detail of Echo's engagements; he was just there for a paycheck. But maybe it was a good thing Boyd seemed to care so much more. Echo was the one who needed protecting after all so why not hire Neurotic Guy to look after her?

Still, explaining how things work to him was getting tiring so as Topher tried to ease Boyd's unnecessarily anxious nerves, he started throwing in new comparisons to the old discussion and wandering around the dubious utopia that was the Dollhouse. The activity of the haven never ceased to entertain him.

When he had gotten around to telling Boyd about the flawed nature of imprints, he saw Dr. Saunders standing around and signing documents for one of the attendants.

And she was nowhere near her office.

It was refreshing.

Although she still walked around like she was on some kind of leash, tying her down to her examination room, she was finally starting to become more mobile. He was even seeing her in the cafeteria more and more frequently even though she usually took the food back to her office.

Something about seeing her out and about lead to a smile directed at her that he was unable to suppress.

When she looked up from the electronic form in her hands and saw him grinning at her, she reacted exactly how he would have expected her to. Instead of returning the smile, she looked quickly away but not in the motion of distaste that he assumed she would.

She seemed almost embarrassed.

Whether this was because she was flattered or because she was uncomfortable, he found that he, pleasantly, didn't know.

He always calls her Dr. Saunders (it's safer that way) but he often thinks of her as Claire (and he knows he shouldn't).

The day Topher realized that, against all logic, he was attracted to Dr. Saunders, he seriously considered tracking down someone at Rossum who was a licensed psychiatrist and getting a full inspection of his head on a non-neurological level.

First he thought it was a superficial thing. Being forced to make Claire, made him think of Anna and now he was combining the two somehow, seeing Claire and associating her with Anna. But he knows that isn't it because Claire doesn't look like Anna. Yes, of course, they share the same face and no matter what he has always thought she was pretty, but they always remained separate when he looked at them. Aside from the obvious addition of the scars, Claire only wears her hair one way: down and curled. Anna's was straight and pulled back when he met her. Claire wears feminine dresses underneath her lab coat. Anna's attempt at trying to look nice was still fairly casual compared to Claire and even though he only had a photograph as proof, he always got the feeling that she wore t-shirts and jeans on her off days. When he looks at Claire, that is who he sees. Anna doesn't even factor into the equation.

Then he thought that it was an arrogance thing; he is the scientist who falls in love with his own creation. He made her, and therefore she is beautiful to him. But that can't be entirely true either. He made all of Whiskey's imprints as well and not all of them were beautiful to him. More than one of them he found annoying and particularly disagreeable no matter whom they looked like. Yes, they were all creations he took pride in, but that didn't immediately lead up to him liking them, and certainly not to being attracted to them. There's something in Claire that he likes and even if he had inadvertently put it there, he hadn't done so for his benefit. She was made for the House.

Then he wonders if he is intentionally seeking out unattainable women because of something in his past, some fear of relationships. Psychiatry seems to put a lot of focus on past experiences and, after all, he did name Claire after a girl who rejected him. That must be it! He liked Anna and any relationship with her was unfeasible because she signed her life away for five years, putting a stall on any progress he could make with her until a time that seemed so far in the future. And now Claire, a woman he had designed so that nothing would happen between them, is his new inaccessible object of affection.

But when she had first become Whiskey, he had spent hours thinking about what to do when Anna wakes up. He was preparing for his chance; not avoiding it. He actually actively put her out of his mind so it wouldn't weigh heavily on him. Had he been looking for a self-destructive disaster, he would have just continued pining for the last few years.

And deep down, even though he knows he had put up bars against it, he longs for the day when Claire laughs at one of his jokes instead of giving him a look of annoyance or rolling her eyes.

"You must be Topher Brink! It's so nice to finally meet you!" the girl said, thrusting her ring-covered hand out for him to shake. Tentatively he took it, eyeing her curiously.

"And . . . what was your name again?" he asked, pointing at her with his other hand. He had only briefly looked over her information when DeWitt had sent it to him. He didn't want another assistant; he had been fairing fine for the last few months without anyone's help.

Besides, this girl was qualified. His previous assistants had been blatantly not up to his caliber. They were like his pawns, not knowing enough to function independently of him but conversant enough that he didn't have to explain things repeatedly. They didn't even bother to ask too many questions or to try to understand the capacity of the machines they were working with. It was nice.

This girl had received virtually the same training as him albeit at an older age so she lacked the years of hands-on experience that he had being so prominently accelerated in his schooling. But the fact remained: she knew exactly what he was doing and with a little bit of active work, she could be a head programmer herself. It made him very tense.

"It's Ivy," she reminded him, smiling brightly.

"Right, right," Topher said nodding as he glanced out the window. "Plant name. Botany."

Dr. Saunders was walking across the floor and he made an uncomfortable connection.

"My dad was a botanist."

He rubbed his forehead and scrunched up his face trying to get her out of his head. It was only recently that she had entered his mind again and he was trying to get her out.

"So, is there anything you need me to do?" Ivy interjected hopefully.

Topher lowered his hand and looked at her.

She was a cute girl, probably around his age but her plaited hair and clothing choices made her seem younger. Her white lab coat had a large pin in the shape of a flamingo on it and somehow this was the thing he honed in on. An animal pin. Cute. Smart. A plant name. A threat.

"Yes. You could go to the store and pick me up some cheese curls; the puffy kind, not the crunchy ones."

"Hey!" Topher said, popping his head into Dr. Saunders' office.

"Hello, Topher," she said casually not looking up from her computer screen. "What do you need?"

He smiled slightly deciding that was marginally better than 'what do you want.'

Topher clapped his hands together and strolled into the room feeling satisfied with the rhythm they had established. She still didn't precisely care for him, but she had accepted him and that was probably the best he could hope for.

"Just warning you that it's lunch time so you might want to give your eyes a break and get some eats. I hear they have cake!" he said joyously, like he was really trying to sell the idea to her.

"I'll be down in a few minutes," she said quickly, her eyes still staring straight ahead, the clicking of the keys speeding up a little.

Topher nodded and aimlessly started to wander around the room until he caught sight of the lollipop jar.

"Hey, Dr. Saunders!"

"What is it, Topher?" she asked, now sounding a bit annoyed that he was clearly just killing time in her private space.

"What's your favorite flavor of lollipop?" he asked, picking up the jar and looking through all the different colors.

Dr. Saunders stopped typing abruptly and Topher looked up at her tentatively. She didn't look angry or confused, just contemplative.

"Those are for the Actives," she answered flatly, her response sounding more motorized than anything else Topher had ever heard her say and he started to worry that he had just sparked something in her brain. She hadn't answered the question so he swiftly made up his mind to ask her again.

"Yeah, but what's your favorite?" he questioned, holding the jar from the bottom with the top facing her. "If I held this jar out to you right now, what color would you go for?"

Brusquely, she stood up and snatched the jar out of his hand.

"Don't you have to go get lunch?" she asked pointedly but not rudely.

Topher held up his hands in an arrest stance, a tad dramatic he would admit, and turned around to leave. Once he was outside of her office, he ducked behind the window and peeked inside to see her standing where she was, staring down into the jar with that same pensive look.

It was then that it occurred to him: she had never eaten one before and couldn't remember ever eating one.

Topher mentally kicked himself for his mistake, forgetting entirely about her whole not-technically-a-real-person thing, and watched quietly as she pulled an orange lollipop out of the jar with a quizzical look. After a few seconds of inspecting the candy, she put it back and unwrapped a yellow one instead.

Although it is difficult for most of the people in the House to tell, she was definitely ever so slightly more on edge than usual and he knew it was because of the dead body wearing Alpha's knife work.

The fact that the security team had stretched the truth about Alpha's death wasn't really that surprising but it did certainly complicate things. When he had added in that bit of programming, he had done so not just because they had told him that Alpha was worm food but also because he was afraid of the kind of terror it would instill in her to know that he is still alive and that she had barely survived his rampage the first time.

For this reason, her quickly developing friendship with Boyd seemed to be a good thing for her, even if it did make him twitch for a second before reminding himself that, for now, Dr. Saunders had her freedoms and Boyd was exactly the kind of person he had made her relate to. He was someone who had a similar disposition to her own, who she could talk seriously to about House matters. Having someone she could at least talk to would take her mind off of things, or at least rationalize and sooth her fears.

Even so, her lack of reaction when he joked about them getting married and having scowly babies, made him feel better, and not just because such a thing would be impossible for her.

After the lollipop incident, Topher had been watching her vigilantly for signs that he had disrupted her ignorance, promising not to make that mistake again.

For a little while he seemed to be in the clear until one day he heard Dr. Saunders talking to Boyd just outside of his office.

"Echo wasn't always the best," she said with what almost sounded like a touch of sadness.

Topher froze.

"Are you talking about Alpha?" Boyd asked seriously.

Please be talking about Alpha, Topher thought desperately, holding his breath.

"I'm just saying sometimes the best thing to hope for is good enough."

That wasn't the answer he was hoping for.

Before he had imprinted Claire, DeWitt had specified that they would be working in close quarters as her explanation for why so many precautions needed to be taken against any kind of emotional involvement. However, it wasn't until Echo's eye camera that they really needed to work side by side on anything but when she said close quarters, she meant it. They shared a desk, planned the whole thing out together and as it turned out: Dr. Saunders is difficult to work with.

It wasn't just because all his jokes fell flat around her, they always did anyway and "sneeizure" wasn't his most clever comment, but because she really did let her caring side impact her opinions too much. Although it had started out generally fine: him explaining the technology and neurological aspects and her translating the procedure, it wasn't long before he was bombarded with a list of side effects and things that could go wrong during surgery that he didn't need to hear about. It wasn't her job to assess the risks and this had led to a small but rather sharp argument.

After the surgery went off without any snags, he assumed they wouldn't have to work that intimately again for a while but the second he accidentally caught sight of Victor's "problem," the first place he thought to go was to her. Sure, she was the House doctor after all but a part of him realized that he was running into her office just because he needed to tell someone and she was still fresh on his mind.

When he had assumed they wouldn't be working together for a while, he really didn't think the next project they would work on would be erection hunting. It certainly wasn't how he wanted to spend his day.

She was annoyed of course although it wasn't really at him. She blamed the whole system of the Dollhouse for not reading her reports and thereby directly causing this. Topher hoped that it was that simple and that there hadn't been a mistake he made in his wipes. Who was he kidding? Of course, it wasn't his fault.

Either way being is such close proximity to her that he could smell the vaguely fruity scent of the shampoo the House buys while they were watching videos of people showering resembled a really awkward dream he had once. And wasn't nearly as sexy as it sounded.

When Dr. Saunders had determined the cause to be Sierra and not some error made in the imprinting process, she didn't take being corrected as badly as she had with the other project.

Topher had found it really fascinating how even wiped of a personality or sex drive, the indefinable aspect of "attraction" was still capable of producing a physical response.

It was also . . . sweet.

"He likes her," he said grinning at Dr. Saunders.


And for the briefest moment he saw a smile flash over her lips.

"Can you tell me about Sierra?" Dr. Saunders asks, she and Topher watching him closely for any responses.

"Sierra is beautiful," he says in his Doll monotone.

Topher smiles.

"There are a lot of beautiful girls here, bro. That's pretty much the idea," he says turning to look at Dr. Saunders without thinking. "Beauty."

Keeping Dr. Saunders out of the N73-16 drug outbreak experiments was surprisingly easy. She must have had a lot of work or something because typically this would be the exact kind of situation that she would not only want to get involved in, but raise as many issues about medical ethics as humanly possible.

Initially Topher was going to be very vague with her, saying that he had a lot of dangerous work to do and if she needed anything, she should send an Active to get him. However, DeWitt pointed out that there was really no use in keeping information from her since she would probably have to be told about it later. Besides, the only reason why they weren't involving her in the experiments was because they were unsure whether or not the drugs did have some kind of effect on Actives that they could not foresee (although truthfully, Topher was starting to wonder if he was the only one in the House who remembered that Dr. Saunders was not a real person). Turns out they made the right decision. The last thing Dr. Saunders needed was visions from her past lives.

Although she had been fine sitting that project out, when the time came to brainstorm ideas on how to regain control over the priority Actives, Dr. Saunders would not just sit quietly by.

Her idea was the one that they accepted and if Topher was keeping score (and he certainly wasn't) they would be about even.

Sure it had been a good idea and seemed to work alright for the Actives who needed it, but if he had been worried about keeping her status as an Active under wraps, forgetting she was an Active altogether wasn't the best way to go about hiding such information.

When he saw her walking out into the light for the first time since she entered the Dollhouse, it wasn't Dr. Saunders but Whiskey who stared dazed into the sky with all the other Actives, wondering why she hadn't felt the sun's rays on her face before.

Dominic, well, Dominic in Victor's body, looked her dead in the face as she was administering the drugs and shouted out, "Whiskey" after having already tried to plead with everyone else in the room who might offer a bit of sympathy. The beseeching tone didn't change. It sounded like a name.

Without missing a beat she replied with, "He wants a drink instead" and Topher breathed a silent sigh of relief that she did not make the connection.

"I'm not surprised," DeWitt added with the same blithe calm she always displays but he could tell that they wouldn't be able to keep this up for much longer.

He could have used some whiskey himself.

Dr. Saunders lingered in the doorway of the imprinting room, no longer traumatized by her encounter with Alpha but back to her usual calm, maybe even superlatively calm.

"He asked me if I always wanted to be a doctor," she said distantly, as if her mind was adding in comments and analysis as she spoke.

"Huh," he said, not sure if he should act surprised or intrigued or what. All he could feel was a stiff cold running through his body.

" Well, who can fathom the mind of a crazy person?" he added, trying to sound as casual as possible although he could hear the nervous falter in his own tone.

How much longer?

And then what?

"The one who made him crazy," she offered, slowly turning to leave. "Maybe."

Apparently just because I can make something does not mean I will fully understand it, he thought as he watched her walk away. Maybe she wanted to remind me.

Alpha had imprinted Echo with the Natural Born Killers Whiskey.

Once the discovery had been made he didn't know why he had started checking Echo's imprints in the first place. It made sense that Alpha would return to something he knew as opposed to trying to guess which Echo imprint he has not been acquainted with would be most likely to jump into his arms and let him take her away. Even without the perfect details of the Whiskey imprint being dumb and psychotic, the imprint had the one thing Alpha seemed to really need from Echo: complete, unwavering trust.

Feeling not-so-amazing about the result of his search, he immediately went to DeWitt with the conclusion but when he told her, they both realized how unimportant the fact was. He needed trust and he got it. It wasn't like Alpha wanted to go on a crime spree; he was far too intelligent to make such a scene when the Dollhouse is looking for him. Whatever he was going to do with Echo now had been carefully planned and Paul and Boyd would be the ones taking care of it. At least they had a possible location.

Somewhat defeated by the lack of assistance he was able to provide, Topher walked back to his office, confused to see Dr. Saunders standing on the lower level, staring out the large window.

"I think you gave me more computer skills than would be required of a medical doctor," she said calmly, standing still with her back to him.

The end, he thought breathlessly, his gaze turning to the computer where he saw the name "Whiskey" at the top of the screen with Anna's picture below it. Had she always looked so sad in the photo?

"It was very easy for me to hack your system."

She turned around as if looking for a reaction and even though Topher had been preparing for this since she first started to become suspicious of her past, he didn't realize just how difficult it would really be. He couldn't react. His throat was dry and his limbs weighed too much to move.

"I'm curious," she said after a pause to give him time to say something. He had nothing to say.

"About?" he choked out, forcing himself to turn towards her as she started walking up the stairs to his level.

"Well, I guess I understand why they wouldn't want to waste an investment and I suppose why hire a new physician when you can just imprint the broken doll . . . but why did you decide it was so important for me to hate you?" her tone as harsh as it was within her capacity to be.

This caught him off guard almost as much as the revelation that she had figured out she was an Active. Hate? He hadn't wanted her to hate him. He didn't know she hated him. That had never been his intention when programming her. They were supposed to be able to work together! A distaste for his humor, his arrogance, his smell, all in the name of keeping any kind of superfluous non-working relationship from accidentally occurring . . . when did hate come into this?

Topher stared at her and parted his lips, trying to get some form of clarification out only to find that there was none he could offer.

"I think that's strange," she said with the same scornful tone, as she turned to leave.

"You didn't open it," Topher spat out before she could get too far, pointing to the computer.

She stopped, facing away from him.


"Aren't you curious to see who you really are?" he asked confused. Why would she come so far only to stop inches from the end?

She turned to look intently at him, her face stiff but her despise so clear, dissecting him with her stare like he was a monster.

"I know who I am."

Topher was taken aback and tried so hard to say something else, anything else, but she walked away before he could.

He had never fully forgotten that Dr. Saunders was an Active, only reflecting on it when he was still adjusting to her and when he thought she might soon find out for herself. The idea of her being a person, a wholly realized and self aware person, was not something he had really considered until then.

He could remember her when she was a blank Doll, when she was several other people he had crafted in his lab, when she was only one traumatized school teacher looking for an escape from her grief and most of all, he could remember sitting down at his computer and throwing together the imprint of Dr. Saunders in less than an hour. Whenever he saw her becoming her own person, he didn't notice because he had forgotten she was an Active.

But here she was: 100% Claire Saunders. Someone he harbored a strange sort of affection for even though she would never feel the same and who now looked at him like he was the devil himself when he was just as bound by the system as she was.

When Echo was brought back from her outing with Alpha, Topher was thankful he would be able to scrub her and end his day. Using the project as a way to keep his mind occupied, he picked apart her brain completely, leaving no lobe unwatched as he tried to remove every trace of Alpha's experiment. It took a few hours because he was working rather carefully and the longer he spent focusing on Echo's brain, the less time he would have to think of Dr. Saunders before he is finally able to fall asleep.

"If you like," were his words of completion to a Doll who didn't know anything of the hell she had been through or the hell he was currently in.

He turned around, his eyes downcast as he wondered, now what? What preparing had he thought he had done that only left him with this uncertainty?

Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder, startling him slightly as he turned around to see Echo standing behind him.

He was about to ask her what was wrong but before he could, he saw her hand passing over his chest, right over where his heart is.

She kept her hand there for a second, looking blankly up at him with dead Doll eyes that were not entirely unaware before she wordlessly turned to leave.

How did she . . .?

Was she sensing his feelings or showing him that he really had a heart to break?

Dr. Saunders had chosen to express her resentment towards her discovery through distressingly symbolic torture.

He certainly didn't program that; could never have anticipated it.

First it had been the Bride of Frankenstein clips interrupting his computer. An interesting choice really since at the end Frankenstein's original monster had taken pity on his creator, an idea Claire clearly wasn't willing to go along with. Maybe he was supposed to be the monster. The Bride did hate him.

Then came the rats. Sure it was appropriate and annoying enough to stand alone as some kind of haunting reminder that she believes he's treating humans like lab rats but that clearly wasn't entirely the point. She knew he was afraid of them and had intentionally used the Godzillas of the rat world for that very reason. If he didn't dream about masses of smothering white fur and high-pitched squeaking, he'd call the day a dubious success.

But he wasn't even safe in his own bed anymore. He had been napping more than usual, unable to go through a full REM cycle before he would be woken up by some unpleasant subconscious thought that would lead to him begrudgingly heading back to work.

That night he naively thought his exhaustion made him safe.

He had felt hands, lips and really was in a far more enjoyable dream than he figured he would be having, than he thought he deserved to be having but when he started to wake he realized that the feelings weren't drifting away with his consciousness and he was soon looking up at Claire's face hovering over his own.

He wondered if this had been months earlier, would he have jumped away so quickly and demanded to know if she was drunk? Even so, the thought that this was just another level of her plans to make him suffer did not cross his mind at first. Especially when the response was that she was just trying to be her best as she backed him into the wall and his mind was filled with uncomfortable flashbacks.

She glanced down at his groin and he didn't hesitate to push her away, grab the nearest pair of pants and start trying to explain himself even though she's a doctor. She knows how that happens and she had provoked him on purpose and he wonders if she even knows the half of what kind of a mind screw she's running on him.

"Let's stop playing games," she said smoothly, stalking towards him and putting her hands on him for a second before he leapt away from her.

It was completely absurd. He had never been playing a game with her. She was the Dungeon Master here.

He sits down on the edge of his poor excuse for a bed and realizes that she had actually thought this through rather well.

"Because this is the end game. This is where it all leads. You design someone to hate you so that you can convince them to love you," she said gently, before pushing him back onto the bed and straddling him.

He tells her he could make a love slave any time as a counter argument even though he never would. It would never be satisfying or she would never be more than what he makes her and he had known this for years. Unfortunately, Claire seemed to know too.

"But that wouldn't be a challenge, would it? Slaves are just slaves... but winning over your enemy, the one person guaranteed to reject everything you are? That's real love," she purred, running her fingers through his hair, whispering feigned "I love you's."

He faltered for a beat, thrown by her logic, and let his hand that had been originally avoiding any contact rest on her thigh. Was he subconsciously doing that? Was that why he had some kind of unexplainable attraction to her?

But before she could press her lips to his, he realized her game was working and that he shouldn't have let her confuse him. He threw her off of him easily and he wondered if the act's simplicity was because of experience, a heightened sense of morality, or simply because he knew she was wrong, receiving a slap across the face for his efforts.

"You need a freakin' treatment," he said knowing that the words meant nothing to her now. Before getting her back into the chair would have been difficult, but now it was next to impossible.

"Why shouldn't I love you?" she demanded, standing up to yell at him. "Aren't you lovable? Aren't you big brother? Aren't you the lord my god? Why should I fight your divine plan?"

"Because you're better than that!" he admitted, standing up. She had become more than he had planned, more than anyone could have foresaw and he could tell by the look on her face that she was starting to believe it too. "Because you're better than me."

And he explained it all to her: why she was made and how he had made her and he could see the fear on her face. She was grasping at reasons to continue hating him even though she was no longer sure of anything.

"You don't care . . . if- if people get hurt," she spat weakly at him, knowing her defense was crumbling; her back was against the wall.

"You don't know me!" he shouted, seeing everything finally sink in behind her big, brown eyes. "I didn't make you hate me. You chose to."

Claire slid down the wall until she was sitting, pulling her knees up protectively in front of her as she cried for what she now knew was the first real time.

"How do I live?" she asked pleadingly, looking at Topher with tear-filled eyes. "How do I go through my day knowing everything I think comes from something I can't abide?"

He didn't have an answer and could never possibly think of one.

"So you weren't really going to sleep with me?" he asked, changing the subject, knowing that she hadn't wanted to but realizing now that he didn't actually know her well enough to know if she would have out of spite.

"I can't stand the smell of you," she admitted earnestly, her face resting against her folded arms.

The comment sparked a bit of pride in him since he had intended to have that element in her construction but there had never been any confirmation from her on whether or not it took.

"I did that," he said a bit too upbeat, and she looked away from him. "So we'd never . . ." he quickly stopped himself before revealing far too much and humbly looked down at his hands. Somehow she seemed to understand his meaning anyway.

"Why didn't you find out who you really used to be?" he asked quickly, crawling over to her. The question had been on his mind from the beginning. "Remember, you had your chance! Maybe DeWitt would even re-imprint your old identity. You've earned it!"

And as he said the words it sounded like the perfect solution. She didn't want to be his creation and there was another girl whose contract was just about up and deserved to be getting back to her own life.

"Because I don't wanna die."

The words shocked him still, his mind reeling from the revelation.

If Claire Saunders leaves the body she now occupies and was made for and never comes back, she is dead. Every imprint he has ever made is a person design, he said so himself, and that person is only allowed to live as long as they are needed to serve their purpose. He is playing God even more than he had ever imagined he was, creating and destroying on a daily basis to suit those created naturally.

And if Claire never leaves then Anna isn't asleep.

He had told her he wasn't an executioner. He had told her everything would be alright, that there would be Twinkies when she woke up. He had made plans.

But how could he ask Claire to die even if her life meant killing someone else?

"You're human," he said finally truly understanding the meaning of the word.

"Don't flatter yourself."

When she left the Dollhouse he could understand why and couldn't even force himself to think of it as stealing.

He just missed having her around.