Bennett fixes the wedge and puts Caroline back into Echo just in time for the house to come crashing down.
Echo sits up as explosions rock the building around them, doing her best to quickly shake off the aftereffects of the imprinting process, and meets Bennett’s eye. She tilts her head. “Raincheck on the torture?”
The words are Echo’s, but the movement is all Caroline – the raised eyebrow, the bright and appeasing smile that once drew her in so easily.
Bennett frowns as gunshots ring out and the wide, glass windows behind her shatter. “Under the circumstances,” she says drily, “I believe that’s acceptable.”
They flee through the tunnels.
There is one, small piece of Echo that looks at Bennett with any sort of affection, while the rest remember the pain too clearly to feel anything other than distrust and fear.
In the shadow of the crumbling Rossum building, Bennett is beginning to panic. “I suppose I no longer have a job anymore. Or a home. My apartment was a part of my compensation package.” She puts her hand to her temple, forehead wrinkling like she’s fighting off a headache. “Can I even go back? Even for a moment? I am fond of several of my possessions.”
Topher is too distracted to offer any comfort – still troubled by Boyd’s betrayal, by the sheer scale of the destruction nearly brought about by his tech – and there is no one else who will pay her any mind. She is the outsider here, brought along out of sheer necessity.
There is only one piece of Echo that cares for Bennett, but that one piece is Caroline, and it shouts louder than any other voice in her head. Against her better judgement, she approaches. “You should stick with us for now,” she says. “Today was a big win, but I’m sure what’s left of Rossum will still try and strike back. They’ll definitely target you if you try to go home.”
Bennett drops her hand and glares at her, though the look has more resignation than anger behind it. “Another gift from Caroline,” she mutters under her breath.
“You’ll be safe with us,” Echo promises. “That’s what she really wanted: you safe.”
“She left me behind, abandoned me to my fate.”
“No, I didn’t!”
Bennett looks up in surprise, blinking owlishly behind her glasses as Echo snaps her teeth shut on the outburst.
Caroline is harder to manage than the others. A complete person dumped back into the body she’s so intimately familiar with, she feels real and right in a way no other individual personality does. Echo as a whole always feels right, but each little part of her has to be consciously called up, pulled from the mess of her mind and shoved deliberately into the driver’s seat. Caroline slips in effortlessly, makes Echo fade back and nearly forget everyone else who exists within her. She shakes her head and nudges Caroline away with more force than is usually needed.
Bennett’s surprise has shifted into curiosity, cold and clinical. She considers Echo for a moment, then gives a quick nod. “I’ll go with you. That seems to be my best option right now.”
They go back to the Dollhouse, at least for a time. They need to clean it up and clean it out, make sure nothing important is left behind when the remnants of Rossum eventually come sniffing around again. Bennett agrees to help with the tech, though she can’t seem to muster up quite as much enthusiasm as Topher for dismantling all that delicate, intricate hardware.
Echo stands back and watches her fiddle listlessly with some complicated jumble of metal and wires that is far too advanced for any of her imprints to understand. After a moment, Bennett pushes her tools away with a sigh and sits back, grimacing as she shifts her arm and tugs at the straps of her sling.
“Does that still hurt?” Echo asks, drawing closer.
“The nerves are completely severed,” she says briskly, without bothering to look up. “There’s no way for pain or any other sensations to travel to the brain.” She pauses then, clutching at her deadened wrist. “Yes, sometimes.”
“I’m sorry. I know that can’t be fun.” Echo can still remember that same pain in her own arm, at least a little bit, lingering memories from Bennett’s programming. She can’t imagine having to cope with it for any longer than she did.
“No, not at all,” Bennett agrees quietly. She reaches out to pick up a small screwdriver, glancing up at Echo as she moves. “Did you have a purpose in coming up here? This isn’t your area of expertise, and I’m sure your assistance is more needed somewhere else.”
“She wants to talk to you.”
“Yes, I thought that might be the case.” Bennett lets out a deep sigh. “Do you remember that we made an agreement? I helped you bring Caroline back, and you promised to let me do anything I liked to her.”
“Is that really what you want after all this?”
Bennett’s brow furrows. “Perhaps. I’m still considering the option.”
“Well, I’m still willing to hold her down for you if you do,” Echo says with a shrug, “but I think we all need to clear some air here, first.”
“Fine,” Bennett says shortly, dropping the screwdriver back onto the desk unused. “Let her talk.”
Echo nods and closes her eyes, and a moment later, Caroline opens them. She sits down in the chair beside Bennett, leaning in close. “Bennie,” she breathes, reaching out to touch her hand. “Hey.”
Bennet flinches back, pulling her arm out of reach. “Say what you want to say, please.”
Caroline straightens up, dropping her hands to her lap. She opens her mouth once, closes it, then slowly shakes her head. “You know, I wasn’t even gonna go through with it?” she begins. “Using you to get to Rossum, I mean. I’d changed my mind. I was trying to find a different way in, a way that kept you out of it.”
“I didn’t want to be out of it.” Bennett keeps her eyes down as she speaks. Her hand drifts back to the device in front of her, fiddling with loose wires in an idle imitation of working. “You were my best friend. I wanted to help you. And I believed you wanted my help. Stupid of me.”
“Bennett, no. I did want your help.” She laces her fingers together to keep from reaching out to her again. “I was real happy when you offered. I hadn’t had anyone on my side in a good long while. But I knew how bad Rossum could be, and they’d already killed one person that I… that I cared about.”
“You left me behind.”
“I thought it was the best thing I could do. They were already gunning for me, but they didn’t know you helped. I thought you could get out safe even if I couldn’t.”
Bennett finally looks up to meet Caroline’s eyes. “It didn’t matter if I got out safe if I was alone. I was only there because of you. We were in it together; that’s what you told me, what you promised.”
“I know, but–”
“I didn’t leave you, so you shouldn’t have left me!”
The outburst startles Caroline enough that Echo finds herself back at the forefront of herself again. She tilts her head curiously and rests her elbow on the worktable, turning to face Bennett more fully. “That’s really what you wanted, huh? You’d have rather been trapped with her in the rubble or side by side with her in the Attic than free and clear.”
“Caroline didn’t go to the Attic,” Bennett says, calm and sullen once more.
“But she might have, if she’d taken you down with her,” Echo points out, “and you definitely would’ve gone if Rossum knew you were a part of that scheme. They wouldn’t have risked keeping you on or letting you go after that.”
“No, I suppose not.” Bennett regards Echo for a long moment before giving a short nod. “Yes. That’s what I would have preferred.”
“Oh, Bennie,” she sighs, leaning in. Echo moves to press a kiss to Bennett’s forehead, but Caroline, always insistent, aims a little lower.
Bennett goes stiff for a moment under the touch. Then, all at once, she relaxes into it, closing her eyes and moving her hand from the desk to cling, a bit desperately, to Caroline’s wrist where it sits on her shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” Caroline says when she finally pulls back. “If we go down again, we’ll go down together.”
Caroline has a house up in the mountains somewhere, quiet and isolated and off the grid. She’d mentioned it to Bennett once, back in Tuscon, said she had a place they could run to if things went bad, but she wasn’t quite willing to give her a location then.
She offers it up freely now, a final peace offering, Bennett supposes.
“Some of us are going there now to lay low for a little while,” Echo tells her, bag on her shoulder and Paul and a few of the others at her heels. “You don’t have to, but the offer stays open. She wouldn’t even let me know where it is until I promised you an invite.”
Bennett frowns and says, “I’ll consider it.”
She isn’t angry anymore, that old rage burned out by Caroline’s touch and sweet words, but there is a large, confusing gap now where all that hatred had been, and it is still so easy to get hurt with Caroline. The others behind Echo eye Bennett uneasily, and that is excuse enough to keep her distance for now.
She just could stay here, perhaps, and let herself be caught when Rossum finally comes. She could find out if Caroline’s latest promise is true.
Later, before Bennett can finalize any real plan, Caroline comes back alone and holds out her hand. “Please come with us, Bennie,” she says.
“Nobody really wants me there,” Bennett insists. She has already half-decided to stay.
She says it so simply and earnestly. Bennett knows by now that Caroline is a skilled liar and Echo is even more of one, but she always wants to believe.
Very slowly, Bennett reaches out toward Caroline’s hand. She stops when her fingers brush Caroline’s palm. “Don’t… Don’t leave me again.”
Caroline closes her hand around Bennett’s. “I won’t,” she says. “I promise.”
Bennett stands up when Caroline tugs on her hand. She lets herself be led away, out of the Dollhouse.
She'll take this chance one more time.