"Aren't you curious to see who you are?"
"I know who I am," she bites out.
As she walks out of the room, she wonders if he knows what a lie that is.
She wonders if he programmed her to say that, and she forces herself to blink back tears.
Sitting on her bed, Claire puts her head in her hands, and lets out a bitter laugh, thinking about how easy they made it for themselves.
They moved her right from a pod to an on-site apartment. They programmed her to want to live in the Dollhouse for their own damn convenience. They made her a friendless workaholic so they would know that she was always on call. They stuffed all those memories into her brain, memories of—
Not they, she forces herself to think. Topher.
She imagines him typing on his ridiculous little keyboard, inputting changes to her neurons, inserting the memory of Alpha slashing at her face, of her father drunkenly slapping her, of crying for hours over a B on a computer science test, of...
It's odd. She knows, intellectually, that everything about her is fake, but it all feels so real. She remembers everything perfectly.
The images lie distilled, perfectly translucent and shimmering in her mind, each moment of her life captured in a single face, a lone object.
She feels like they're a photo album that she can flip through, turning pages of thick yellowing paper until she finds the one that's different.
I think you gave me more computer skills than would be required by a medical doctor.
Her words keep ringing in his mind like a bell clanging out his failure over and over again.
Why had he kept that part of her personality in? Well, to be technical, it didn't come from her original personality—that was required by company code to be kept intact.
But why had he put that in?
Topher isn't used to feeling guilt. Pride, frustration or anger with the weakness of others, sorrow and loneliness, sure, but guilt? He hadn't really thought it was possible.
He thought he'd buried that away.
It's just...just a remnant of the old him. He isn't that guy anymore.
That guy died along with the use of the name "Chris".
He thinks, suddenly, that he did it to hold onto her—to pretend she still existed outside of silicon and wires, ones and zeros. He hadn't wanted to keep her locked up in a file, stored away, waiting for the five years to tick by while everyone she knew moved on.
She deserved more than that.
But it was stupid, really—he should have known she'd find the file eventually, with all the hacking mumbo jumbo he'd given her.
He tries to tell himself that he'd been doing a rush job changing the gender and shortening the life span of all the memories, tweaking with them so they seemed realistic for her appearance, that he hadn't realized those skills were in there. They'd needed a doctor fast.
He's too smart to lie to himself, but he's too dumb to not need to try.
God, he was such a fool. Normally he hated that word; it seemed so round and gelatinous, like the meaning of it would spill out beyond the boundaries of the letters—like using it would taint him, dumb him down.
Now he just repeats the word over and over in his head, to get her voice out of his brain, to get her out of his life.
Which is hilarious, really, because all he ever wanted was to get her back in—no. He can't think about this.
Fool. Fool. I think it's stra—fool. Fool. Medical doc—fool. Fool. Fool. Fool. Computer—fool.
It loses its meaning the more he says it, until the word is stripped to its raw, bare essence: meaningless symbols jammed together to represent nothing at all.
It keeps ringing dully through his mind, and he only now realizes that he's been pounding his fist on the desk in rhythm with it.
Fool. Fool. Fool.
The memory she keeps coming back to isn't anything fake—it's something that happened just a few weeks ago. Which makes it more important than anything he put in her head.
Topher was sitting at his desk, and as she passed by it, she felt an immediate surge of hatred for him. He was the star, the smart little nerd who got it all done, but he didn't actually care about the doll like she did. He never bothered to even consider where he was sending them, what he was doing with their shells, how he was taking advantage of them and raping them with remnants of other people.
He looked up, as she walked in to give him something, and she wanted to punch him in the face.
Looking back on it, now, she thinks maybe that this is how he sees himself. Maybe her hatred towards him is just his own hate.
She's stricken by the realization that these aren't even her own thoughts. She isn't here anymore—she's stuck in a hard drive somewhere.
The only reason she even knows how to think these thoughts is because they gave her knowledge of the Actives so she could work with them.
It all becomes too confusing, and she sinks into her memories, because they're the only things she can stand right now.
She picks through them—her father screaming at her, "That is the skimpiest dress I've ever seen!", playing in the sandbox with her sister, kissing her first boyfriend and trying to think of a discreet way to wipe off the spit, reading her first book, going to medical school.
Claire thinks that if she remembers all of them, if she thinks about every moment of her life in detail, then it will stay real.
It will stop collapsing around her like so many grains of sand falling out of their castle shape.
Topher gets up and starts pacing. Usually eating something makes him feel better, or else playing Tetris, but he can't focus on anything right now but her.
The more he tries to stop thinking about her, the more he thinks about her—it's like what his mom used to say about taking out a splinter.
Every time he took her to the chair to go on an engagement, and then every time he went over to her office, he would remember—who she really was.
But he'd gotten good at forgetting. There were so many other things to think about, and he didn't have to see her that often—and her real self was so long gone that he started to believe in Dr. Claire Saunders.
There's work he should be doing—the show goes on even with Alpha running around out there. He needs to prepare imprints for tomorrow, file some paperwork.
And then suddenly he sees her, glaring at him with something like curious resentment, saying, "But why did you decide it was so important for me to hate you?"
It's hard to think completely about all the reasons why. Mostly, he thinks it was so he could separate them. Claire and...her other self.
He's so used to tiptoeing past those thoughts, avoiding thinking about anything that happened before he came here, that it's almost hard to start thinking about it.
He thinks he should keep it that way.
She's lying on her bed now, watching the lights of passing cars filter through her curtains, when it comes to her, in such a deep pang of insatiable hunger that she bolts upright:
She has know about herself.
Maybe she didn't lie—maybe that's not who she is, but she needs to know.
Claire doesn't stop to think like she always does—carefully weighing the ramifications and considering the possibilities—no. She can't do that now.
Now she runs.
And she's bursting into his office in a staccato symphony of shoes when her wild eyes catch him turning, startled, towards her—still sitting at his computer, with her other face still smiling back at her.
"Claire? What are you doing here—I thought—"
She realizes now that she has no way to explain herself; nothing to say that won't come out barbed with accusations and pain.
She's not entirely sure why she cares—doesn't he deserve to boil in her anger?
There are so many emotions tangling in her right now that don't make any sense. Fear, nervousness, understanding, empathy, rage, sorrow. She feels like a can of soda that someone shook too hard.
And she can't spew her carbonated feelings out at him. Not until she figures them out first.
"I—Topher, I'm sorry, I can't do this right now. But—"
He looks at her, hopefully. Behind the template of automatic frustration, she feels a pang of protective sentiment, and wonders if this is the bleed-through she hypothesized would come from prolonged or repeated engagements.
"—I'm going to come back. I'm just not ready yet."
He's shaking, and she knows that he knows something terrible about her.
And that only makes her more afraid, because that means something terrible happened to her.
The minute she dashes back out of the room, he collapses into his chair again.
He thinks he might start breaking down into sobs, but at the same time he feels too hollowed out for tears. Like someone took a scoop and gutted him like a pumpkin, until there's just an empty gourd with an empty grin.
And he knows it's bad when he's started to use overwrought metaphors like that—he's too upset to even laugh at his own emotionality.
He puts his head in his hands, trying to breathe deeply.
Unbidden, the memories start to seep out from behind the locked door inside his brain.
"Chris? I think we're out of milk. Or—we have some, but it smells funny."
"Shit! Um, um, well, we'll just have orange juice in our cereal, okay?"
"We will not! You're joking."
"I am not! We will have orange juice, and it shall be grand! We shall call it—cereal with orange juice!"
"Shut up, you loser. You just want attention."
"Oh, it burns! Her words stab at me like pokers!"
"Get off the floor, drama queen. Go buy some milk."
"I don't want to! The line'll be so long..."
"Fine, you know what? I'll get it. God, you can't do anything for yourself—when are you gonna grow up, Chris?"
"Whoa, whoa, Em, baby—when did this turn into a real argument? Did I miss something?"
"Back at 'Go buy some milk', I think. I'm leaving."
"Em—wait! You should get bananas, too!"
"Fuck you, Chris! I'm tired of picking up after your goddamn messes—and, and I hate how you can't take anything seriously. This doesn't work. I'll go somewhere else."
"Emily—what are you saying? This isn't be happening. I love you."
"Yeah, well, sometimes that's not good enough, okay? Call me in a few years when you stop drinking out of crazy straws and start doing the laundry every once in a while."
"You can't just—Em, come back!"
It all floods through him now; apparently memories don't like being shoved away.
He flashes through images of her, mostly her face and its vivid expressions—the one she made when she was just about to come; the way she wrinkled her nose whenever he made a joke she didn't really want to laugh at; the half-confused look she'd give him when he made a geeky reference she didn't understand; the heart-stopping glare she gave him when she finally left.
And that's the one he pauses on. Because now he realizes—
—it's the same face that Claire made when she found the Whiskey file.
Claire's in the bathroom of her apartment, splashing shockingly cold water onto her face over and over again.
It doesn't work, though. She doesn't feel awake, or real, or anything.
She slumps to the tile floor, and suddenly starts shaking with huge, hacking sobs. This whole day has built up inside her—she's so confused and worried and anxious and afraid of what the truth is.
But anything she could make up in her head is worse than what's really true, right?
Topher probably has nothing to do with it. He's probably just feeling guilty that she's at the Dollhouse at all, that he couldn't tell her—that's understandable.
Even as she thinks the words to herself, she knows they aren't true. This goes deeper.
There's tragedy behind it.
But she has to know. The burn is still there—the need to find out.
It has to be better than anything she's imagining.
She wipes her face with her sleeve, and finally stands up to turn the faucet off. Wiping her hands on her skirt, she walks out of the room.
Topher jumps at the knock on the door. He laughs to himself, in a short, hollow way—that she'd bother to knock now.
"Come in," he rasps. She pushes the door open, and strides in, heels clacking.
She sits on a chair in front of him, smoothing her skirt down. "Topher. I need to know what you know about me. The—the other me."
He gulps, nervously. "You want to see the file?"
"I don't care about the file, Topher, it's probably stolen off someone's Wikipedia page. I need to know the truth. You owe me that."
"Okay, ummm, see, the truth kind of...well, it wouldn't make anyone feel better, really, so why bother? Lies can be refreshingly—"
Her hard stare tells him that he's going to have to tell her the truth.
His mind starts wheeling, looking for a way out of this. He could just make something up—there's about a 72% chance she'd never find out...
...but he can't do that to her. He already did—all of these things to Em.
"Okay. Um. So, your original personality is Emily Parks. You were born in Memphis, uh—went to Stanford and majored in computer science. We—um—we kind of—"
"So we knew each other? Originally?"
He let out a shaky laugh. "Yeah, yeah—I was—we were—you—"
"Are you saying we dated or something?"
He started picking at his nails. "Right. And, and you came to the Dollhouse three years ago, as Whiskey, and then after the Alpha attack, you were scarred, and we lost the original Dr. Saunders, so..."
He knows his attempt at a diversionary tactic failed miserably by her look at him. "And why did I come to the Dollhouse, Topher? What horrible thing happened to me that made me want to erase five years of my life?"
He can't believe he's actually going to tell her the truth. He's an idiot.
"Well, you broke up with me."
The silence after his statement is so resoundingly deafening that he has to keep going. "Because you thought I was too immature. Which I was, but I was also kind of pissed off, because I didn't exactly think being immature was such a bad thing at the time, and I thought maybe if you had, you know, a little time to cool off, but also time for me to figure out what you needed—"
As she stands up, he can tell this isn't going to go like in the movies, where she's angry at first, and storms off, but then comes back the next day full of forgiveness.
"You fucking little bitch!" She can't really believe she's saying these things, but the words are just rushing out of her—she can't stop them. "You took away my personality because I broke up with you? Do you have any idea how terrible it is to realize that you're not real? That everything you know about everything is a lie? To not know who you even are—if there's something beyond the imprint in your head?"
She starts pacing—she doesn't want to have to look at him. "I just want to know who I am, Topher! Is that too much to ask? Why did you have to take that away from me?"
Claire thinks she could go on for years like this, ranting out her pain and anger. But she finally registers some sort of background noise, something besides her own footsteps and words...
She looks up, and finds him huddled in his chair, clutching his knees and rocking back and forth. He's muttering something to himself over and over again, and she cautiously inches closer to hear what he's saying.
"Fool fool fool fool fool fool fool fool fool"
And her rage melts into a tenderness that surprises her in its ferocity. She reaches out to put her hand on his shoulder, and leaves it dangling in the air when he looks up at her.
She's still bitter—hell, she was programmed to be bitter, this revelation is just icing for the Bitter Cake—but she doesn't think that's going to solve anything right now.
Even as she starts to do it, she can't believe herself—for one thing, she's always hated him; even knowing it's a program doesn't change the bare bones of it. And for another, she's never been this brave.
But the moment continues, and seems to last forever—her face slowly leaning down towards his, while he looks up at her with such childlike, raw sadness that she can't call it sorrow.
And then her lips slowly connect with his, and she's startled that this feels familiar.
The entire time they're kissing, she can't stop thinking about how she remembers everything that he's doing; it's as if she's done this a million times before.
Thinking about it just makes her more confused, so she pushes him back onto the desk and pulls down his pants.
Topher's mind is doing little spirals of happiness—he can't think straight at all. Right now he'd swear that pi is 3.19.
Em normally curls up against him and does a contented sigh thing after it's over, but this time she pulls away from him and slowly starts to put her clothes back on.
He stretches languidly, trying not to make anything of it, or of the table digging into his back.
"Em, you don't have to go so soon. I mean, you could just stay here."
She turns back around, blouse half-buttoned, and suddenly he remembers that this isn't Em. That he just had sex with Claire—with a Doll. "Oh. Oh, God, I'm sorry—I just—you did the same thing Em used to do with her tongue a couple of times. Um. God, I'm sorry."
He expects her to start throwing things at him, and he almost wants it—he wants someone to make him feel bad for what he did. To make him keep remembering.
But instead, she stops looking for her other shoe, and carefully leans against the table.
"Topher? Do you think that it's possible that—that part of me is still...Em?"
The word slips hesitantly out of her mouth like it's a foreign entity, and her voice is so frightened and halting that he sits up.
He runs a hand through his hair, trying to get it to stay down, and considers it. "Yeah. It's possible. Have you been—like, remembering things?"
"Not exactly. It just felt—really familiar. When we were having sex. And I'm feeling things that...I don't think were programmed into me. I think...seeing the file—triggered something."
He nods, slowly. "So if...if you're feeling things from Em, do you...do you think she's mad at me?"
She smiles at him. "A little. But I think she's gotten over it, mostly. Mostly—she just wants you to stop moping around. And to do the right thing."
"As in find a new doctor?"
She nods. He can't believe she's not angry with him—either of them. He considers begging for it, but it seems a little too pathetic.
"I don't know how I'm going to explain this to Adelle."
She takes his hand, loosely. "It'll work out. I don't know why, but—I feel strangely optimistic."
"So you're sure? Because that would pretty much stop you from existing. Or at least relegate you to a disk somewhere."
She shakes her head, chuckling. "I don't think it works like that. I think you're all a bit naïve about how people work. The...the essence of what makes someone human doesn't change, or go away. Why do you think Echo's been having all of these flashbacks?"
She stands up, and starts buttoning her blouse again. "And even if it does work like you say, it's okay. Aren't I going to live on in someone else? Victor, probably."
He's crying, and she wipes at his tears with her thumb. "Hey. It's okay. You'll be okay."
"What if I don't deserve to be okay?"
"You just need to grow up a little."
He watches her leave, and he thinks that he's never felt worse in his life.
After she's gone, he whispers her a goodbye.