Disclaimer: I own absolutely nothing!
A/N: This story is the result of the following Secret Santa prompt from the wonderful Lily Zen: 'Dollhouse, Echo, she thinks she's imprinted and solving a murder mystery a la Clue or Gumshoe-style, but it turns out that she's in the Attic. By finding the killer, she finds the key to getting out. Bonus for imprint glitches and overlaps. This should be very M.C.Escher/Dali-esque in style. Dream-like.' I struggled with this story but thankfully, Lily enjoyed it, which was my main objective :o) I'd like to thank her for the final beta and for encouraging me to publish this story as it was never my intention to do so and I hope at least some of you will enjoy it! Please note that this is an AU fic.
The only thing Echo was consciously aware of was the realization that she was going to die and that somehow, through death alone would she be able to live again...
The bleak and sombre evening mirrored Echo's mood as she walked through the dark, tree lined road; the street lighting causing macabre shadows to fall across her beautiful features like a menacing caress. It was eerily silent except for the shhh shhh shhh-ing sound of the rain.
She stopped at an old, dark Gothic style house and walked up the few steps onto the porch to knock at the large wooden door.
The door creaked open to reveal a tall, lugubrious looking man who appeared to be in his late 60s with dark, sunken eyes, lank, grey hair and dressed in a mourning suit.
Echo flipped open her ID and the man beckoned her inside. "We've been expecting you, Detective Travis." His voice was deep with the characteristically low tones of a heavy smoker.
Echo entered the building, wiping her shoes on the coarse rug before following the tall man into the building.
The young woman felt as though she was walking through an old black and white movie; the interior was completely devoid of any color other than various shades of grey, even the tall man she was following looked like he had been painted in monochrome. There were no paintings or adornments to add warmth; the air it exuded was definitely one of melancholy.
Echo, under her current imprinted personality of Detective Emma Travis had been contacted by her partner, Detective Steven Locke to meet him at 364 Percival Street. They had been attempting to solve a series of gruesome murders in the outskirts of Los Angeles. The killer had been given the nickname 'The LA Cutthroat' for obvious reasons. While Echo/Emma sat in her apartment going through her files, she received a call from Locke, who informed his partner that he was in her neighbourhood and calling from the house of a viable witness, Mrs Evangelina Avery.
The tall man stopped at the end of the corridor and opened a door that led into a small parlor.
"This is Detective Travis, my dear," the tall man informed an old lady who was sat opposite Locke. Obviously the lady was Mrs Avery and the strange man with the sunken eyes' term of endearment suggested that he was, in fact, her husband and not the butler as Echo had initially suspected.
Mr Avery or whoever the man was left the room, closing the door behind him.
Steven gave his partner an amused smile as the old woman turned ever so slowly to look at the new arrival. "Please, take a seat." Mrs Avery pointed to a dilapidated armchair opposite her and next to her partner. There was a small coffee table between them with a rather dainty tea set imprinted with a delicate rose design.
Once again, Echo felt as though she had travelled back in time and was now sitting in a turn of the century drawing room. It was hard to determine the original color of the wallpaper as it had faded with time and was obscured by large bookcases. The dusty and well worn books would probably have been worth something if they had been kept in better condition as they were obviously very old and some were likely to have been first editions. The carpet looked as though it could have been any shade of green but her eyes may have been deceived by the dim lighting with a strangely yellow hue. The only other furniture in the room was an old piano in the far corner and the coffee table and four larger than necessary and out of place fabric armchairs. There were no paintings or pictures and there were no windows.
There was, however, a bright red door that looked decidedly out of place in this antiquated little room.
Echo sat where the old woman had indicated. Mrs Avery was a frail looking lady with her silver hair tied loosely in a bun. Her lily white face gave her an air of fragility offset with sharp blue eyes that peered at the newcomer behind a pair of silver rimmed glasses.
"I'm glad you're here, Emma," Steven noticed that the Mrs Avery was glaring at his partner with a look of distrust and wanted to reassure her that the young woman was no threat. "Mrs Avery has some very interesting information..."
The older woman suddenly jumped up and pointed her finger at Echo. "You will never stop him!" Her exclamation startled the two detectives. "He's too strong, don't you see?"
"We will stop him," Echo emphasised, wondering if the old lady was as reliable a witness as Locke said she was. Right now she looked like a mad woman.
"Mrs Avery, now why don't you tell Detective Travis what you told me?"
The old woman looked from Locke to Echo and then, with wide eyes turned her attention to the red door. "You can't stop him," she repeated, only this time it was said in little more than a whisper, "Because you can't stop the devil!"
Now Echo was certain the old woman was mad. She threw her partner a look of complete annoyance; they should have been following up feasible leads, not pandering to the whims of a deluded old lady.
Mrs Avery crumpled down in the chair and closed her eyes as though she was concentrating hard.
"Ok," Echo turned to her partner, "What's going on here?"
Locke kept his eyes on the older woman while answering Echo's question. "Mrs Avery thinks her son is The LA Cutthroat."
"I know he's the man you're looking for!" the old woman said loudly.
"What makes you think your son is responsible?"
"Young lady, Otis is not a normal man," the old woman opened her eyes as though this would be enough of an explanation but it was obvious that the younger woman wasn't convinced so she felt the need to elaborate. "As a child we had to lock him up because he was a danger to the other children in the neighbourhood. We've tried to keep him away from society but six weeks ago he... escaped."
"The murders started six weeks ago." Locke said unnecessarily.
"How long was he locked up for?" Echo asked. She was uncomfortable with the idea that this seemingly harmless old woman could have kept her own child hidden away from human contact for any length of time, let alone as long as she suspected.
"Twenty five years. Ever since he was five." Mrs Avery saw the revulsion in Echo's face and immediately tried to explain the reasons why she had to go through such extreme measures. "He was a wicked boy! He killed another child's pet kitten and showed no remorse; in fact he enjoyed it so we knew we had to do something!"
Locke could sense the outrage that was about to explode from his partner so he attempted to calm the situation. "Emma, Mrs Avery was only doing what she thought was best for everyone." He agreed that the woman could not just get away with what she had done but the main objective here was finding her son, if he was actually the killer they had been hunting for over a month.
Echo contained her anger and decided to try to gain as much information as possible. "Where did you keep him?"
Mrs Avery looked at the brightly painted red door. She didn't need to say anything further and Echo jumped to her feet. "I'd better take a look then." The truth was she wanted to get away from the woman but didn't want the woman getting away from them so she needed to go in alone. "Steve, stay here with Mrs Avery. I won't be long."
Steve was the senior partner but knew that Echo needed to do this alone so he nodded and then smiled at the old woman, an attempt to mollify her as he watched Echo head towards the red door.
Echo opened the painted red door and the first thing she was aware of was a rancid stench that made her gag. Quickly covering her mouth she turned on the light. It flickered on to reveal another long passageway, this time painted bright red with a garishly designed multicoloured carpet.
'What the hell?' she thought to herself as she walked carefully towards another door at the end of the hall.
She heard something slam behind her and upon turning was shocked to realize that the door she had just walked through had vanished. She retraced her steps and banged as hard as she could on the wall where the door should have been; the sound was not that of wood but something more solid, bricks perhaps.
She yelled for help but there was no reply, realizing that she was wasting her time she decided that her only option was to go to the door at the end of the corridor.
Echo could hear whispered voices as she walked. Her heart rate was rising rapidly and she had to fight her anxiety in order to remain calm and focused. Fortunately, Echo was adept at controlling her emotions and blocked out the haunting voices.
She slowly turned the knob and walked into a small room, which was empty except for a single high backed wooden chair directly underneath a flickering light bulb.
Could this be one of the rooms where Otis had spent the last 25 years of his life?
Echo heard another bang and quickly spun around. Once again, the door had vanished only this time she found herself trapped in a room with no discernible means of escape.
The whispered voices were becoming clearer, whereas before they were unintelligible, now she could distinctly make out what they were saying.
They were repeating a name over and over again; "Samantha..."
Echo frowned, then shook her head... she needed to remain focused!
Searching frantically for a way out, she jumped when the chair suddenly fell to the side and moved towards her, stopping at her feet.
By now she was finding it increasingly difficult to keep calm and control her breathing.
In an attempt to block out the voices she put her hands over her ears and began repeating to herself, "This isn't real! This isn't happening!"
Suddenly, Echo doubled over in pain as she felt as though her head was about to explode...
The room started spinning but even through her pain she continued her mantra.
"This isn't right. This isn't happening!"
Echo felt a chill in the air and, feeling a draft, she cautiously opened her eyes to find herself standing on a snow covered mound next to an old, gnarled, frost-covered tree outside her childhood home.
The familiarity she felt for the scene had more to do with recent events than from childhood memories but her confusion was causing her head to hurt even more, if that was possible. "What's happening?"
A voice came from behind her, "Come here."
Echo turned to see a scruffily dressed man with shaggy blond hair and piercing blue eyes smiling at her. If his intention was to look non-threatening then he was failing as his eyes were ice cold and stared through her with such hypnotic intensity that Echo found she was momentarily unable to move.
"Come here," he repeated, his penetrating gaze never wavering.
Echo stepped back, increasing the distance between them.
"I'll protect you." His voice was soft and raspy but there was a definite air of menace.
"I uh, I think I'll pass."
Echo found herself jumping slightly at his raised voice and demanding tone. She took another step back and mentally prepared herself for the attack she was sure was imminent.
Her eyes flicked to the man's hands as she noticed him swiftly removing something from the inside of his flowing, black coat: a blood stained knife.
The man laughed, "At your service."
He bowed theatrically but his eyes never left those of the woman standing before him. "Now come over here or you'll end up like the rest of them."
Echo moved further back but her retreat was suddenly halted by the twisted tree. She watched as the notorious murderer stalked towards her, the cruel grin on his face an eerie indication of how much he enjoyed watching his prey.
Quickly, the young woman considered her options. The man was a psychotic killer whose skill with a knife had been one of the most important elements of the investigation. He killed his victims quickly and efficiently with a quick cut to the throat. There were no survivors or witnesses so the investigation had to rely on forensics and criminal profiling. His huge stature made it easy to see how he managed to easily overpower his seven female victims; Echo was no match for him physically but she would not go without a fight.
Echo pressed herself as far back into the tree as possible and as soon as Otis was close enough for his body to cast a shadow over her, she used the tree as an impetus to propel forward and watched in smug satisfaction when the psychotic killer's malevolent expression changed to one of shock just before she rammed her head into his stomach which sent the two of them cascading down the embankment.
Echo landed harshly but her adrenaline levels spurred her on and she jumped to her feet before the killer could continue his attack. She spotted the knife next to his hand and kicked it away before he could grab it and then, for good measure, stamped on the hand that had narrowly missed the knife. She couldn't help but smile when she heard him spurt out a series of expletives.
Her eyes were on the knife she had kicked away and she raced towards it but came crashing to the ground when the killer grabbed her ankle with his good hand. "Come here!"
"You," Echo gasped while using her legs to kick at him wildly, "need to expand your vocabulary!" With every ounce of strength she could muster, she kicked the mad man hard in the face. Blood spurted out in a perfect arch as he fell backwards and collapsed onto the ground, his body casting out little puffs of snow where he had landed.
Breathing heavily, the exhausted woman cautiously scrutinised the man lying motionless in front of her. She knew that it was imperative that she should make certain that he really was unconscious, that his apparent state was not pretence.
Her life depended on his immobility.
Watching the rise and fall of his chest, she glanced at the knife and thought about how easy it would be to plunge it into his heart and stop his breathing, ending the threat his very existence posed but a loud bang drew her attention away from her surroundings.
Echo turned and noticed a door standing in the snow covered ground without any visible means of support; it looked like a statue rather than part of a building.
She turned back swiftly - this was not the time to be distracted! - but as soon as she turned, her breath caught; both the murderer and the knife had disappeared!
Cautiously Echo approached the door and looked behind it.
There was nothing there but miles and miles of blindingly bright snow covered land.
She had an overwhelming compulsion to open the door so she slowly turned the handle and walked through it into a tiny room with a spiral staircase.
"This can't be happening," she reasoned, wondering if anything she had experienced since setting foot in the Gothic house was real.
She looked up and noticed a hatch so she climbed to the top of the stairs and opened the small wooden opening. Peeking into the room above, Echo saw a small child of about five or six with a mop of blond hair and piercing blue eyes staring at her.
"Hello there, I'm Emma."
Despite her fear and confusion, Echo kept her voice remarkably calm as she didn't want to look like a threat to the small boy. "What are you doing here, sweetie?"
The child looked as though he was about to start crying. "I want my mommy!"
"It's ok, I'll help you find your mommy," Echo had fully entered the room by now and opened her arms trying to encourage the child into her waiting embrace. "I'm a police officer, sweetie." She smiled as the cherubic looking little boy stood up and started walking towards her. "Can you tell me your name?"
"My name is Otis... Echo!"
Echo's eyes widened in horror as the two names registered and then she screamed as the child pushed her through the hatch, his laughter echoing in the background as she painfully tumbled down the stairs, landing in a heap when she reached the bottom.
She was unconscious.
Masked figures swathed in white robes surrounded the lifeless body, watching as the ruby red blood from a head wound made a puddle in the snowy white ground.
"Can you hear me?"
Echo's eyelids fluttered; she recognized the voice. "Topher?"
The masked figure reached down and caressed the injured woman's face tenderly. Her eyes remained closed though as the man continued to speak, his young voice softly tying to reassure her. "Listen to me. This place isn't real. It's all in your mind and once you realize that then you have the power to beat this thing. We're here to help you. You've been through this before, remember?"
Echo was becoming more aware of her surroundings now and who she was. "The Attic?"
Another voice spoke, this time deeper and older and full of authority. "Do you know who you are?"
"Boyd, is that you?"
"Yes, now do you know who you are?"
Echo's memories of her time in the Attic flooded back to her... the machines that kept her in stasis while she 'lived' through her worst nightmares... Anthony and Priya being shot in front of her... the sudden awareness that everything she was experiencing was all in her mind... her fight and subsequent alliance with Dominic... the discovery that the minds of all of those in the Attic were somehow connected... helping Anthony and Priya... finding Arcane/Clyde, the man responsible for the initial concept of the Attic and now trapped in his worst nightmare... witnessing Clyde's apocalyptic vision... the realization that the only way out was through death... dying... resurrection.
She opened her eyes and discovered that she was now alone in a meadow, lying on her back among the wild flowers and tall grass, feeling at peace.
If she was in the Attic again then why did she feel so good?
"Samantha... " The eerie voices were no longer chilling; they were strangely comforting now, a stark contrast to the fear they evoked when she first walked into this nightmare.
Then again, maybe the constant repetition of that singular name was a form of psychological torture, Echo thought to herself in disgruntlement.
Echo suddenly remembered her injury and tentatively touched the back of her head. Expecting to see blood, she was mildly surprised to find nothing. Even though she felt lightheaded, the pain had gone.
"Oh, will you please shut up!" Echo snapped as she started to rise. Her dizziness was only a minor inconvenience and once she was fully on her feet it merely took a couple of seconds before she was able to concentrate on anything other than breathing.
Once she regained her composure, Echo looked around and noticed that she was standing near the edge of a cliff.
Suddenly, she was struck by a blinding headache so severe that she could no longer hold her own body weight and she fell to her knees.
She grabbed her head as fragmented images of the past few hours and her previous time in the Attic assaulted her brain.
Deep down, despite the distraction of the pain she knew what she had to do. Through eyes streaming with tears of pain she looked at the cliff edge, struggled to her feet, ran towards the precipice...
... and she jumped.
The only thing Echo was consciously aware of was the realization that she was going to die and that somehow, through death alone would she be able to live again.
Those were her last thoughts before everything went black.
"Can you hear me?"
"Come on, Sam, open your eyes."
Slowly, the familiar voices filtered through into Echo's hazy brain.
"That's it, Sam," she felt a hand clasp hers, "Squeeze my hand if you can hear me."
Echo squeezed the hand weakly, quickly followed by the sound of a man quietly laughing. She was confused as to why someone would find her predicament so amusing.
She struggled to open her eyes and when she finally succeeded and her cloudy vision cleared, she saw an unexpected face staring down at her with such a look of profound relief that she couldn't help but return the smile.
"Welcome back." Paul's voice registered more emotion in those few words than she had ever heard.
Behind him stood Topher Brink smiling broadly and Boyd Langton, who stared down at her like a proud father at his favourite daughter's graduation.
On further inspection she realized that she was lying on a bed in a hospital room, hooked up to a machine.
She closed her eyes again. Her memories were still indistinct but she felt safe; everything was going to be ok.
One last thought lingered as she drifted back to sleep.
Who was Samantha?
Echo sat on the edge of the hospital bed when the door opened and Topher walked in dressed in medical scrubs.
"How are you this morning, Samantha?"
"Still slightly confused, but a lot better, thank you," was the honest reply. "I keep getting these recurring dreams and images in my head."
"You're bound to be confused; you've been through quite an ordeal. And don't worry, those dreams are just a result from the massive head trauma you sustained. It's fairly common. Ignore them and they'll go away eventually." He smiled encouragingly at her. "So, you think you're ready to get out of here?"
Echo nodded her head and smiled when she saw Paul enter the room with a wheelchair. "Procedure." He shrugged.
"I really don't care, as long as I can go home." She said quietly.
It had been almost a week since she had woken up in the hospital. The vivid nightmares and images of being a 'Doll' were rapidly diminishing and she remembered living a relatively solitary life in a small house in a rural area on the outskirts of LA with far too much clarity to ignore the obvious, that these men were telling her the truth.
Paul helped her into the wheelchair and, with a final reminder by Topher that either he or Dr Langton would visit her in a couple of days time and handing Paul some medication that Dr Langton said Echo needed to take, the couple thanked the young man and left.
Adelle DeWitt was sitting at her desk staring at some documents when there was a knock at the door. "Come in."
The door opened and Boyd Langton walked in. He offered the Englishwoman a brief salutation and sat down in the leather chair opposite her.
"So," the elegant woman began, her eyes never leaving those of the man she was facing, "it seems that our young friend is cured."
Boyd nodded and smiled pleasantly. "Samantha..." the emphasis he placed on the name was fully intentional and did not go unnoticed, "... has just gone home with her fiancé. She's still having recurring nightmares and images but I'm satisfied that she now realizes that they're due to her accident and aren't real. The medication she's been given should help. Her fiancé will call if there are any complications and we'll bring her back here for further tests if necessary. I'm going to check up on her in a couple of days to make sure everything is in order."
"And if everything is not in order? What then, Boyd?"
"I'm not worried. There's no indication that she really believes she's anyone other than Samantha." He leaned forward and smiled smugly. "Plus, one of the ingredients in the medication she's taking is scopolamine."
"I'm still not convinced. What if she is still as big a threat to the organisation as you claimed?"
Boyd Langton thought back to the time when he had approached Adelle DeWitt, shortly after Echo had returned from her first internment in the Attic.
With increasing anxiety he realized that it was only a matter of time before Echo's original personality, Caroline Farrell, revealed that he was, in fact the current incarnation of Clyde 2.0 and the co-founder of the Rossum Corporation.
He needed to take drastic action so shortly after he found out the real reason Adelle sent Echo to the Attic, he asked the Englishwoman to meet him privately.
This conversation was the culmination of that meeting.
"Then," he said seriously, "I'm afraid we'll have to resort to Plan B."
Boyd kept the smile of anticipation in check and managed to look sombre as he clarified. "Ballard knows what signs to look for and has been programmed to kill Samantha if she becomes a risk."
Adelle returned the smile, "Excellent!"
The meeting that Boyd had initiated wasn't as private as Adelle had expected. She reached the location only to be rushed by two men, then forced into a van, drugged and taken to another Dollhouse where she had her original memory wiped and imprinted with one of Langton's most trusted cohorts, Megan Russell.
The ruse was successful enough to convince Topher that the Doll was actually DeWitt. The imposter then proceeded to instruct the young genius to imprint the personality of an introverted young woman who would have no difficulty in believing that her flashbacks and visions were dreams.
Adelle/Megan convinced Topher that giving Echo this specific personality was just a temporary measure to determine if Echo could be manipulated. Her increasing self-awareness was, as she had put it, "A failure on your part."
Topher agreed; he wanted to prove to these people that he was not a failure. Plus he knew that this was only for a short time as in order to find the identity of the co-founder and defeat Rossum, they needed Catherine.
Rossum's plan of world domination had successfully disposed of its greatest threat and Boyd Langton was one step closer to his own personal vision.
A/N: This was set before the episode Getting Closer, where it is revealed that Boyd Langton was the co-founder of the Rossum Corporation.
Scopolamine is a drug commonly used to treat common ailments such as motion sickness but it is also used by criminals to render a victim submissive, yet unlike rohypnol, even though the victim is apparently powerless to resist suggestion they are alert and articulate. It has been used in popular fiction as a mind control drug.
Oh, and finally, my main concern about posting this story was that before I decided to tackle Lily's prompt I had never even watched a Dollhouse episode! The following weeks I felt like I was cramming for an exam so I hope my unfamiliarity with this fandom is not too obvious. Thank you for reading!