Title: Full Is Not As Heavy As Empty
Author: Amethyst Blizzard
Disclaimer: Don't own it, Joss is boss. Also, title comes from Fiona Apple's "The First Taste".
Rating: PG-13 (T) – for alcohol consumption, a lot of it.
Spoilers: Whole series, though mainly "Getting Closer" and "The Hollow Men".
Summary: With two crystal tumblers and a bottle of whiskey, Claire's office becomes a confessional, with both her and Topher confessing a variety of sins, and after a fashion of hesitation, truths come pouring out.
The bottle sits, full and heavy, on her clean desk, looking irreverently naked without anything to cover it; there is nothing to hide it amongst on the desk because there is nothing else on the desk. No papers, no folders, no stray pens or markers or staplers – the computer stands fierce in the corner as it always does, but it is not turned on and does not emit the usual hum that so often lends weight to the dark office. It is still and cool, and Claire sits in darkness, staring at the bottle of whiskey.
There is a slow, quiet knock on the twin doors, and Claire pulls herself from her thoughts to answer a hollow, "Come in."
The heavy glass is pulled apart, slowly and delicately, a hesitation creeping in from the other side. The doors are parted only slightly, and Topher sneaks in, emerging from the vague light of the rest of the Dollhouse into the darkness of Claire's quiet office.
His hair is dishevelled – notably more than usual – and his shirt and pants rumpled and stained with creases every which way. His face does not smile as his lips twitch at her in a small greeting.
"Mind if I sit in here?"
She hesitates, knowing her answer will not matter; these days, Topher stalks around the House and hardly interacts with anyone, save for Claire herself and DeWitt. "Be my guest."
Topher shuffles bare inches from the doorway, looks down at the floor for a brief moment, then slides along the wall to sit down on the polished boards. He crosses one leg over the other, gathers his arms together, and gives Claire a long look, careful not to let much of his thoughts cross that barrier between mind and eyes.
"I had another dream last night," he says slowly, quietly, little emotion in his cracked voice. "This one had rats falling from the sky. They were bloody, cut up and dismembered. I didn't like the look of them."
Claire sighs, restless and frustrated. "Can't say I blame you."
Topher furrows his brows at her tone, wondering at the doctor's empty desk and her plain white dress, an unnatural look for her. "Wouldn't think you'd mind company, Doc, especially since there doesn't seem to be much knocking down your doors these days."
Shaking her head slightly, a few dark curls bouncing softly about her face, Claire responds, "It's not that, Topher. I'm just tired."
"Well," Topher begins slyly, "so long as that bottle of thirty-year-old Glenlivet sits full on your desk, I don't see you getting much sleep."
She smiles at him, gives him a pointed look. "I'm in the midst of a decision: to drink or not to drink."
He nods. "That's quite a dilemma."
The air between them is splintered, the words light but hiding much weight and masked emotion. It has been months since they returned to the Dollhouse, and neither one has really spoken to the other about the events leading up to where they find themselves now. Topher had restored the Saunders' persona, with a few adjustments, and has since become a near-recluse, burying himself with scribbling and notes about his tech. Occasionally however, he will amuse her the odd appearance in her doorway, never really conversing with her, just always being there, watching her. Claire isn't sure whether this is a good sign or not, and it bothers her that it remains an unanswered question of forgiveness and understanding.
Claire studies him silently, looking over his thin film of scratchy facial hair, and the eyes that had once held so much life now blunt and reddened in his insomnia. He leans his head back against the wall, not in agony or pain, but in solace and rest; he finds comfort in this office, and Claire cannot think of a possible reason why.
"Topher," she says quietly, the beginnings of a question, "why are you here?"
He swallows, and tilts his head to look at her, not quite smiling but trying to form one. "Share that bottle with me and I'll tell you."
Claire lifts an amused eyebrow and glances quickly down at the bottle, the decision she had been mulling over for a number of hours now made easy. She sighs heavily, drawing two crystal tumblers from a drawer, and picks herself from the chair, walking steadily over to the space Topher occupies on the floor and finding her own opposite him on the varnished wooden boards. She unscrews the lid on the bottle, carefully pouring a small portion of the dark liquid into each glass. She pushes one glass over to Topher, who, with sprawled legs and a grateful look, accepts it with a slight nod of his head. He wastes no time in indulging, nor does he savour the smooth taste; he just lifts the glass into the air and throws the drink down his throat, shaking his head and wincing at the aftertaste.
Claire watches with a small smile, her eyes warming a little. "You can tell a lot about a person by how they take the first drink."
Topher rubs the bridge of his nose as he watches Claire tentatively sip at the contents of her own glass. "Right, you're so civilised."
The smile on Claire's face suddenly fades as the air between them turns dark, Topher's deep sarcasm causing a splitting rift in the playful mood. Claire drops her eyes to her glass, then keeps them fixed on Topher as she throws back the rest of the drink, its age keeping out the usual burn of liquor.
Topher's eyes burn into hers as he forces a smile. "That's better."
He snakes his fingers around the snout of the bottle, and pours himself a generous amount, doing the same for Claire at her silent insistence. This time, however, he savours the alcohol and takes sips, not small ones but not large enough so that it disappears too quickly.
"I guess old Doc Saunders knew enough about single malt scotch whiskey to keep a bottle around for emergencies," Topher says with a stiff face. "Good man."
Claire nods her agreement. "I think he knew he had to in a place like this. Things always seem to be going wrong, you never know what's around the corner. Better to be prepared than to suffer."
A sardonic smile spreads across Topher's face, and he raises his glass in a toast. "To Doctor Saunders."
After a mild hesitation, and at seeing the silent challenge in Topher's gaze, Claire too raises her glass, and says with a cracked voice, "To Doctor Saunders."
They both empty their glasses, and Claire reaches for the bottle. "So, are you done punishing me yet?"
"Oh no," Topher replies, his voice cold as he waves his hand at her, "the punishing? That comes later."
"I'll bet," Claire counters coolly, the liquid pouring easily from the bottle into her glass, and Topher's.
They sit in silence then, and the tension eases in the air. Surprisingly, they both find it's a comforting silence, a blanket easing over their anger. It's soothing, and in the company of the hard liquor it's welcomed. For a long while, it continues, with nothing but the clinking of glass and the lapping of the whiskey against its bottle to stifle it.
The contents of the bottle have been halved, and Topher leans his head against the cool wall again, closing his eyes and letting the unmistakable feeling wash over him. Claire finds herself leaning against the legs of a stray chair, watching Topher in his easy drunkenness. She too feels the dulling edge of the drink beginning to affect her, and she breathes in deep, taking in the smells of the room, a mix of aromas together. The deep scent of blossoming flowers, something she keeps always around her office, the smooth whiskey, also a little spicy, as well as her own perfume and Topher's scent, the thing that has always been most unpleasant to her about him suddenly blending with other smells and becoming not entirely intolerable.
Topher opens his eyes, peels them open after much effort, and lifts his head to face Claire. His voice sounds broken to her as he speaks softly, "Some people believe that you only get one person in your life. The one person in all the world who becomes your other." Claire closes her eyes as Topher continues. "I think Bennett was that person for me."
Claire swallows, and opens her eyes, looking at Topher, pleading, "Topher…"
"She was dark and twisted in her own way, but she had a good heart," Topher finishes with a small smile, and after a pause, adds, "And an even better brain."
"I'm sorry," Claire says, almost a whisper. "I'm sorry, for your loss."
Topher fixes his eyes to the ground, feeling the stinging swell of tears. "I think I could have loved her."
Claire focuses her gaze upon Topher's averted eyes, and she tries to reach them as she consoles him, "I know."
Topher looks up suddenly, clears his eyes and with fingers gripping the bottle, he pours haphazardly into his near-forgotten glass, a few drops of whiskey becoming the casualties of hindered coordination as they splash about him. He swallows half of the glass in one hungry sip, offering Claire the bottle as the liquor races down his throat, beginning to burn. Claire takes it gratefully, no longer bothering with her glass as she sips from the lip of the bottle.
At Topher's raised brow, Claire offers ironically, "I'm civilised," before sipping again from the bottle, its contents fast disappearing.
A brief silence intervenes, and it takes another couple of sips from Claire for her to pinch her eyes closed and sigh audibly, her fingers drumming nervously against the bottle's curved shell. Topher stares at her, this woman with scars and a mismatched white dress and long, crossed legs before him, and he sees the beauty in her once again.
"I thought I may have loved Boyd," she says quietly, a whispered confession in the darkness of the still room. "He was kind and understanding, and I thought he was a good man. He showed me guidance and acceptance when I thought I would never find myself again. I think he loved me."
A stray memory creeps into Topher's mind, and as he stares at Claire he can almost feel her lips on his skin again. He doesn't bother trying to rid himself of the memory, and his heart races as the alcohol takes effect and he feels bold enough to ask her something he in truth already knows the answer to.
"Did you sleep with him?"
Claire closes her eyes and tilts her head back as she replies, "Yes."
Topher folds his eyes closed, feeling suddenly betrayed. His hand fumbles for the bottle, and he too doesn't take the liberty of using a glass as he tilts the bottle upwards and swallows. It's almost empty. After a brief moment, he holds out the bottle and shakes it at Claire.
Dividing the gap between them, Claire shuffles forward and takes the bottle from his hand, her mind blurry but her eyes seeing surprisingly well. "Thanks."
Seizing the tumbler from behind her, Claire pours the remaining whiskey into the round glass, offering Topher a pointed look as she sips from it. "Civilised."
Despite himself, Topher allows himself a short laugh. "Right. You can tell a lot about a person from how they take the last drink, then?"
"Definitely," Claire answers as she lifts the glass and throws the rest of the drink down quickly, smiling.
They sit and stare at one another for a short time, the silence again spreading between them. Topher moves one of his legs, and suddenly pushes forward off the wall, one leg bent and the other straight as his arms fall in front of him, pushing up from the floor. One of his hands finds Claire's cheek, and as his fingers wrap gently around the back of her head, he pulls her towards him, his lips suddenly pressing down on hers. She pulls back, and puts a hand between them, pushing against his chest. His hands fall away, and he looks at her with searching eyes.
She tastes him on her lips as she looks down, avoids his gaze. "Don't."
He leans forward, trying to find her eyes. "I thought we could…just for tonight…"
His voice becomes a trail of broken thoughts as she finally looks at him with her dark eyes, conflicted. "We can't, Topher. We can't."
Her hand still rests against his chest and she can feel his heart race. He kisses her again, they are close enough, and again she breaks away. His hand reclaims her cheek, his thumb caressing her lips, dipping where they are split from a scar. He traces the line of her jaw, leaning forward to press his lips to the edge of it. She leans into his neck, muffling her protests, her hand still pressing on his chest. He moves to kiss her lips again, just once, and when he pulls back, Claire reaches for him, capturing his lips with her own, her hand curling up around his neck.
When they break apart, softly, Topher smiles and whispers into Claire's ear, "That's better."
With her hands firmly wrapped around Topher's neck, Claire searches for his eyes, looking deep into them. "Just for tonight."
Topher nods in affirmation. "Just for tonight."
A/N: I played around with endings but every time I wrote something after that last line it felt like I was breaking the fourth wall. Writing for these two is the only way I'm going to relieve myself of the total lack of resolution between them as far as the end of the series goes, and so there's more on the way.
Reviews are much appreciated, as always :)