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what comes of hubris and excuses

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2014

Caroline’s awake way more often than Team El Lay Dollhouse probably thinks she is.

Echo seems to kind of hate her, for reasons she can’t really understand. It’s hard enough interacting with someone who you share a brain with, not to even get into the subtext of occasional subconscious interactions. Caroline has to think it’s got something to do with pointless sensitivity over her opting into joining the Dollhouse, but that’s just disingenuous. If Caroline hadn’t become an Active, Echo wouldn’t exist, she definitely wouldn’t be the serious hardcore badass that she is -- that’s all Mama and if Echo says otherwise she’s a liar -- not to even mention, the world would have probably ended already. It’s obviously Caroline’s brain, Caroline’s body that is special snowflake-y enough to make Echo even come into existence, nonetheless cause a revolution in the LA Dollhouse.

So it’s a little annoying that Echo calls the shots. Sometimes Echo lets Caroline take the reins, to see what’s going on and to make her own decisions based on information she might have on hand, but one of the only things that’s clear from Echo’s side of all this is that Caroline’s on a tight leash and could be as easily swapped out as a cell phone case.

There’s nothing Caroline hates more than shutting up, but she does what she can, and uses what she knows to help Echo, for now.

She’s going to get her body back. It’s just a matter of time, and waiting for the weird composite memory personality chick to come around to her way of thinking.

Then Bennett comes back from the dead somehow and that plan pretty much goes to hell.

 

--

 

Tucson

“Benny,” she says; it’s hot as hell in Tucson today, but Bennett has her hood pulled over her head and her sleeves pulled down like she’s trying her hardest to look anonymous in her own damn dorm room. She’s writing a paper, she keeps saying, but Caroline knows what avoidance looks like. “Ben. Come on. Take a break. Talk to me.”

“I have a deadline,” Bennett says, firmly, coolly.

“I’m not sorry,” Caroline comes out with, and it works; Bennett freezes like a deer in the cliche headlights. She presses on. “I’m not sorry I did it, I don’t regret it, I mean, if I pissed you off, that sucks, I didn’t mean to piss you off or weird you out -- ”

Bennett is completely stiff in her chair, still, so Caroline shuts up for a second, and there is the most awkward silence ever for the next two minutes.

“I’ve never been good at -- at affection,” Bennett says finally. “The way other people do it.”

“You never seemed like a hugger,” Caroline agrees, dryly, and that gets Bennett to look up at her. “It’s okay,” she assures her. “I get it.”

“I don’t believe you,” Bennett says, blunt as ever, and hesitates, blushing. “I’m sorry. No one would -- I don’t know why you would. I mean. I need to work on my lab report,” she finishes, rapidly.

It’s like a volcano of guilt goes off in her stomach. It’s all of it: the way Bennett watched her every move (and still does) like she’s going to give away the game eventually, like there’ll be some neuroscience tell (because there always is, apparently); Bennett’s hard but wounded expression when she held the file up and demanded an answer from her; that the first person she’s allowed herself to care about in literal years won’t let her fight alone even though she’s inevitably going to die; that Caroline doesn’t know what matters more to her now, the cause, everything she’s lost for it, or what she could lose in the pursuit of her endgame.

She just looks at the legs of Bennett’s chair and takes slow breaths, then puts her earbuds in and pretends like everything’s okay and normal until Bennett prints the lab report. Then she pulls the earbuds out with a swift tug of the cord and asks, nonchalant but sincerely, “Now can we make out?”

Bennett splutters; her hands fly to her mouth, then she presses her face into her hands and Caroline, admirably, does not laugh, because maybe that was a douchey approach to the whole thing. “I’d say I was joking,” she goes on, “but I wasn’t. A little much, though? Yeah.” Bennett is nodding. “Come on. Let’s watch some DVDs. You earned it. How many pages is that report anyway?”

“It is more than enough pages,” Bennett mumbles, then goes to her stack of DVDs, flipping through them and keeping them in meticulously arranged order. “Did you -- I mean -- you said you liked Battlestar Galactica, but if you want to keep -- we don’t have to,” she finishes.

“That’s the one with the hot space pilots and sexy robots, right?” Caroline grins. “Bring it on.”

“It’s more than that but -- oh, you were joking,” Bennett realizes belatedly. She puts a disc in and sits hesitantly close to Caroline, who slings an arm around her roommate and partner in crime, and plants a kiss on her cheek.

“I am so glad we’re friends,” she says, in a moment of rare, complete honesty, before she even means to say it. Even so it’s worth the change in Bennett’s eyes, a complete surrender to plain emotion, and the awkward kiss that Bennett presses to her mouth.

“Me too,” Bennett says, a little breathless, and Caroline just smiles and hugs her close. (If she tries really hard, she can imagine that this isn’t like Leo at all, that one day she won’t be holding Benny while she’s choking in a last breath and have to leave her there to go on to the next mission on a list of endless missions.)

 

--

 

2014

Everyone’s pretty confused when the quiet apparent Actual follows them home, all red hair and dark eyes and her arm held loosely against her stomach as if broken, then drops the bomb that she’s Bennett Halverson. She may not look like Bennett but she sounds like Bennett and acts like Bennett, so everyone just sort of shrugs and waits for the other shoe to drop, as she coldly appraises Echo and Echo returns the gaze without any hesitation. Something’s going on, and it’s all confirmed when the girl says, “You told me you’d hold the bitch down.”

“And I will,” Echo says. “Just not now.”

“You promised,” Bennett says, all bitterness.

Dewitt clears her throat. “Ms. Halverson, we could use your expertise, but there’s also the small matter of our plans, many of which are contingent on -- ”

“On this Active,” Bennett finishes, not even sparing Dewitt a glance. “I’m just going to borrow her.”

“What if we’re not willing to lend?” Saunders speaks up, her arms crossed over her chest.

“It’s not up to you. It’s up to her.” Bennett points at Echo. “I brought Caroline back for you. This was my only condition. You had better pay up. I came a long way to get my due. Not to mention that you people got me killed.”

“This isn’t necessary,” Saunders insists. “We’re all on the same side now.”

“I haven’t decided what side I’m on now,” Bennett says, and lifts her head. “Not yet. What do you say, Echo?”

Echo smiles, just slightly. “I say we need an upstairs room.”

“Echo,” Dewitt says, in her severely concerned tone, “you don’t need to -- ”

“I keep my promises,” Echo says, swiftly, and jerks her head towards the stairs to indicate that Bennett should follow her before going to the second floor.

 

--

 

Echo lies down, casually, and Bennett does up the straps. When she’s appropriately bound, Echo shoves Caroline forward mentally, and she blinks, startled at the complete control, and looks up at Bennett.

“Benny,” she starts, cautious.

Bennett slaps her. “You left me,” she snaps out. “You left me to die! All because you had to sate your curiosity. And you keep leaving me to die -- your team’s hopeless inability to tell friend from foe actually killed me -- Caroline Farrell, I will never forgive you, even if you save the world for good, because you -- you -- ”

The slap really hurt, and Echo is gone; there’s nowhere to run. “I was trying to help you, you, you could go on, look, you couldn’t have kept going with me, you were too -- too good.”

Good?” Okay, that was really not the right thing to say. Apparently she’s going for torture instruments. “Do you think I’m good now? Is that what I am?”

“I think you were trying to help people, and that’s what I mean, I, I was trying to help people but it was a harder game than you could imagine -- ”

“Hard games? I installed a president,” Bennett says crisply.

“Fine! Fine, I fucked up,” Caroline says, hurriedly. “I fucked up and it was fucked up what I did to you and I’m not saying this so you won’t hurt me, you should hurt me, so many people are dead because of me and that’s why I never should have brought you into this, I know you won’t believe me but I really did -- I -- Benny?”

Bennett is staring at her, and it’s as plain as ever that it’s her, different actual face or not. No one could fake that expression, the one Caroline’s always thought of as being her emotional computing face. She lifts some ominous-looking device. “I don’t care why you did it,” she says. “I don’t care what you did before, and it’s not just about me.” She twists a dial. “You need to be punished."

“Bennett. Bennett, fine, do it, just, try to underst -- ”

The device touches her temple and she descends into unthinkable pain, with breaks long enough for her to only vaguely comprehend the calm and fractured lessons Bennett is teaching her about humility and compassion and honesty. Then it all goes dark, and Caroline never wants to wake again.

 

--

 

It’s time to go save the world, again. Maybe for real this time. Caroline wakes, unwillingly, but it’s less a shove into the front than a tap on the shoulder, so she moves, reacts.

Do you get it now? Echo says to her.

It’s been years. More than years. Her hubris has a body count. But, at long last, she understands.

Finally. Let’s finish this.