Spoilers: All of Season One, including “Epitaph One”
Disclaimer: The Dollhouse universe and everything in it belongs to Mutant Enemy. However, most of the characters that will appear in this story are OCs.
Notes: I'm not sure if anyone on my flist watches Dollhouse-- actually, I only warmed up to it recently myself-- but if so, gimme a read. :) I surprised the heck out of myself by writing this since I thought I was only interested in Buffyverse fanfiction, but I think the deal here is that it was the setting and ideas of Dollhouse that drew me in, while in BtVS it was the characters.
So I made my own characters and set them loose in the Dollhouse world. Of course, then I find out that the name of my doll character was already used in canon, but I trust you to ignore that. That is, if you watch Dollhouse and read this story. (And I'll confess here, I love this story. Pretty much wrote itself.)
The whole thing is under the cut, unlike at ff.net where it's appearing in chapters. LJ readers get the sneak preview, because I lurves you.
Did I fall asleep?
Her first thought was that she had been buried alive—-her worst nightmare. Her second thought was that she was wrong about that, because air was flowing freely around her and she was looking up through a translucent surface, and also, she suddenly had no idea of what her worst nightmare was. Come to think of it, she couldn’t remember any of her nightmares, or where she was accustomed to waking up, or her name or age or family.
The situation became that much less clear and that much more terrifying, and she slammed on the lid above her with both hands, screaming “Help me!”
Somebody did. The barrier over her didn’t break, but it wobbled and moved, and she sat up in the pod and looked into a pair of solemn dark eyes. Their owner held a finger to his lips and offered her a hand, and she quieted and let him help her stand without a second thought. Friend? Enemy? He was the only one there and she knew nothing, so she would have to rely on him for now. And those eyes...
She chanced a quick look around the room to get her bearings, and saw to her shock that her pod was one of five, and all the others were closed. The closest one held a sleeping or dead person—-no, she moved, definitely sleeping—-and there was nothing to tell her why she was the only one who had been woken. It didn’t look like a prison. It actually looked more like a resort.
The man touched her hand to bring her attention back to himself, and leaned close to her to whisper, “I can get you out of here, but you’ll have to follow my lead and save your questions for later. Are you with me?”
She nodded. Anything to get away from the coffins.
He was wearing a suit, she noted as he led her to the doorway, and she was in a comfortable purple dress with a very simple cut. The difference in their apparel wasn’t enough to tell her anything, but suits meant power of some kind, so she resolved to follow and learn what she could from her self-appointed guide until her memories came back. Her scrutiny of him hovered briefly on his wavy black hair and broad shoulders, but also picked up something more important: a gun on his hip. Was he government? Did she want him to be government?
They emerged at a long, softly-lit corridor, where he paused after ascertaining that they were alone. “If anyone greets you, smile and greet them back. They’ll call you Quebec, so don’t look confused.”
Quebec? Okay, that meant...Canada. Montreal. French-speaking residents. Fries with mayonnaise. Apparently she had been there, though the knowledge wasn’t attached to any actual memories. And she knew it wasn’t a name, but it would have to do for now.
Startled by the normalcy of the introduction, she looked and spoke for the first time since leaving the coffin. “Well hi, Hayden. I guess I’m Quebec.”
“For now.” His smile was taut and vanished as soon as it appeared. “When we’re out there, try to look...serene. Like you belong here. Follow me, but don’t make any conversation. Let’s go.”
The hardest part about following his instructions was resisting the urge to look up and around at the unfamiliar surroundings, like a—-well, like a tourist in Montreal. The hall that she and Hayden had entered was really quite beautiful, a spacious and immaculate place where others, mostly dressed like herself, were moving through at an unhurried pace. They did seem strangely serene.
Fortunately, Hayden knew where he was going and managed to look relaxed and confident as he walked, and she concentrated on shadowing him to keep from gawking. It didn’t take long to cross the facility, whatever it was, and get to an elevator, but once they were inside and the door was closed, he still didn’t talk to her. It was nerve-wracking, and holding up her uninformed façade was starting to make her feel numb, but she had to assume there were cameras in the elevator or some other very good reason for staying in character.
Character? That was a joke. If anything, the role she was playing was absolute neutrality, and apparently, for everyone else in this place it wasn’t a role. All she could think about was the elevator going up, so very slowly, and her anticipation made its eventual halt feel like an earthquake.
The door opened to a parking garage, which felt extremely odd. In a moment she realized that elevators don’t generally go up to parking garages, but by then Hayden was ushering her into the passenger seat of a black sedan. He got in the driver’s seat and suddenly his movements became very fast, and the car was rolling out into the sunlight in a heartbeat. “We’re off their surveillance now,” he said. “If we ever go back there, I’ll be in handcuffs and you’ll be wiped again, so I really hope I’ve got your cooperation in this.” He gave her a quick sideways glance. “You can ask your questions now, if you want. To start with, your name is not Quebec.”
She inhaled deeply, took a look at the ordinary American city outside her window, took a look at the stranger who had her life in his hands. “Then what is it?” she asked.
His voice was too regretful to be anything but entirely honest. “I don’t know.”
Friends help each other out.
“This can’t be real.” The girl with no name stood up and stalked across the living room, then turned around and went back to the table to pick up the documents again. “It’s insane. Impossible.”
“Can you think of any other way to explain what you just went through?” Hayden was sitting on the love seat, looking much different now that he had dropped the guise he had worn inside the Dollhouse: less relaxed, no less confident, infinitely more exhausted.
She shook her head impatiently, uninterested in actually finding a way for it to be real and possible. “I just...how can you have all this information about the Dollhouse and still not know anything about who I was?”
“I worked for them. The records of the Actives’ original selves are completely classified, though. Nobody sees them except for whoever it was you spoke to when you volunteered.”
“I didn’t--!” Her automatic denial started in fury, but ending it was pointless. She had no idea of what she had done, or why. “How do you know I volunteered?” she said instead.
He sighed and removed his already loosened tie. “Can’t actually prove you wrong there,” he said as he unbuttoned the collar of his shirt, “so this round goes to you.”
It hurt to see him so agitated, and she wasn’t sure why. Well, if she couldn’t find out anything about herself, she was going to have to start with finding out about him. “Why would you work for a place like that?”
He met her eyes and said shortly, “I’m not proud of it.”
“Oh, God.” Maybe finding out more about him, or about any of this, was a bad idea. She tossed the papers back onto the table and let herself sink down until she was sitting on the floor. “This is happening. This is really happening. Why can’t I remember? Just one thing. Anything. Anything!” Her voice broke and turned into a shriek, and she laid her hands on her face to try to seal in the tears.
Hayden was immediately at her side, crouching down to her level with non-threatening body language. “Quebec...” She glanced at his face just in time to see him wince. “Sorry. Do you want to pick a name I can call you by?”
She sniffed and took a deep breath to steady herself. A few of her favorite names drifted through her mind—-Leah, Michela, Katie. Were any of them hers? Were they even her favorites, or did they only come to mind because they had belonged to people she loved? Her mouth twisted. “Can we get back to that question later?”
He nodded and sat down next to her on the floor. “We’re safe here for now, but we’ll have to get on the road in a couple days. I have some friends who agreed to hide us for a while. It’s a long drive, but right now farther is better.”
When they had entered this place, he explained that it was his ‘real’ apartment and that the Dollhouse had another address for him in their records. She didn’t doubt that he was right about it being only a temporary shelter, though, considering the resources of the organization they were trying to evade. The magnitude of the steps he had taken struck her all at once, and she tried to imagine what either of them was left with when all was said and done. “Why did you get me out?” she asked him quietly. “And why just me?”
He twined his fingers together, a curiously childlike motion. “They were going to sell you,” he said. “It’s gone to a level more corrupt than any of us had ever expected. The Rossum Corporation is in the process of writing away the five-year rule, like your contract didn’t even exist. Some old bitch forks over enough cash, she can take her pick of the Actives and move into the body, and yours was first in line.”
She wrestled with the urge to vomit. Could there really be people in the world evil enough to justify that to themselves? “So...” she began, then looked away. The shame in Hayden’s eyes was too much to handle at the moment. “So you just decided it was time to give up the gig?”
“There wasn’t any other way. It took every connection I had just to shut down surveillance in the right spots, and even that only bought us a few minutes. You were scheduled for your closure exercise and I jumped on the chance.”
“The hell is a closure exercise?”
“They temporarily return your mind to your body, but without the memories. The idea is that you can resolve any personal issues that have carried over to your Active state.” He was trying to speak tonelessly, she could tell, probably in an effort to distance himself. Even as it was, the guilt had to be killing him.
Well, good. Let him squirm. Obviously he wasn’t Mr. Innocence, and she was angry. “Temporarily? Did you just say temporarily?”
“Yes, but for you it’s different. Generally there’s a trigger that shuts you down as soon as your goal is achieved, but I managed to get that left out of your treatment. Nothing can alter what you are now unless they get their hands on you.”
Every word he said seemed to carry more questions, and every question made her doubt herself a little more. How was she supposed to know if anything was interfering with her mental faculties? How could Hayden even know for sure if he had been successful? For all they knew, Rossum Corporation was about to kick down the door and turn her back into a doll and...do something bad to Hayden. He had sacrificed so much, risked even more.
“What now?” she said weakly.
He crossed his arms over his knees and looked at her with his head on his arm. “Do you want to stick with me?”
“I don’t really have a choice.”
“Yes you do.”
She brushed her hair back with a hand, noting with dull interest that it was thick and brown, and that she hadn’t yet looked in a mirror. “I don’t know who I am or where to go or anything that can help me in any way. You’re my only chance.”
“I’m your best chance,” he corrected, but he left the matter at that. “So if we’re going with my plan it’s mostly going to be running and hiding, but I’m better at it than you might expect. We’ll be alright.” He touched her shoulder, very lightly, with his fingertips. “And I swear, Qu—-I, I mean, uh, I mean I swear I’ll do everything I can to get your memories back.”
A laugh bubbled out of her throat, letting her feel a small release even with such minimal humor in it. “You know what? Just call me Quebec.”
Now that you're here.
“Think it’ll work?”
Cody raised an eyebrow and answered in a dry voice, “Let’s review my answer to that question the last eight times you asked it, and see if there’s anything to suggest I know whether or not it will work.”
Hayden toyed with his empty teacup and then set it on the low table in front of him. “Sorry. I’m just worried about her.”
“Yeah, they tell me that starts to happen after a few months in your line of work.”
It was best to get used to that tone, Hayden thought. Cody and Rose were friends, yes, but now they sought to help Quebec, not him, and they weren’t readily going to excuse his past. “I’m worried,” he clarified, “because she deserves to get herself back. It has nothing to do with my line of work.”
“Yeah,” replied Cody blandly, then pushed away from the table and leaned back against the couch behind him. “Look, the only place where Quebec’s memories are stored for sure is on a wedge that we can’t possibly get to. But if they’re also buried in her subconscious, and if hypnotherapy can help bring them back to the surface, then yes, it’ll work. Rose is the best there is.”
“I know.” There was nowhere else that speculation could bring them. They just had to wait.
Two minutes later the door to the other part of the house swung open with a bang, and Quebec came striding into the room. She was followed by Rose’s alarmed voice saying, “Honey!” and then Rose herself, flustered and anxious in contrast to Quebec’s deadly calm.
“What happened?” Hayden stood up slowly, his heart hammering. “Do you remember anything?”
She scanned the room as she answered, “Yes, I do.” On the table against the wall she found what she was looking for and stepped over to it smoothly. Hayden cringed, more in chagrin that he had left his gun out than fear for what Quebec was going to do with it.
It was clear she wasn’t practiced with firearms, but it was easy enough for her to cock it and point it at his face. “I remember wandering around a big pretty house and telling everyone I wanted to do my best and being really fucking happy about getting a ‘treatment’.” Her hand trembled, but he saw with relief that her finger wasn’t right over the trigger. “And I remember you. Always there, always watching me get in and out of that chair. You were the one. You don’t know who I was when I walked into that place but you know exactly what I’ve been doing since then, don’t you?”
Hayden held up his hands where she could see them, not risking a glance away from her to see what Cody and Rose were doing. “I was your handler,” he acknowledged.
“My handler? What am I, a circus pony?”
“The handler is the one who monitors an Active on an engagement. Your automatic recognition of me was the only link to the Dollhouse that you retained while you were imprinted with an identity.”
Her breath was coming in short gasps, her green eyes brimming with tears. “Is that why I trust you? Because I was programmed to?”
He wanted to say no, but he could no longer tell her anything less than the truth. He wanted to say that he desperately hoped not, but that wasn’t what she needed to hear either. “I don’t know,” he said. “My friend on the inside told me that he had removed all of our influences, but I’m not a science guy. I don’t understand how the technology works.”
For a few very long seconds they stood there staring at each other. “Can I put my hands down?” Hayden asked meekly.
Quebec lowered her arm and set the gun back on the table in one quick motion. “Fine. But I’m still going to shoot you if you...oh, who am I kidding. I’m not going to shoot you.” She turned to the wall and leaned against it with arms and forehead, and Hayden cautiously moved a little closer to her.
“He did what he could, honey,” said Rose with her usual compassion. “He gave back everything he could find out of what they took from you.” Cody nodded, though it must have been for Hayden’s benefit rather than Quebec’s, as he was the only one who could see it.
Hayden cast them both a look of gratitude, but held his silence until Quebec had turned back around and opened her eyes. “Do you trust me?” he asked her.
“I said I did,” she said, annoyed.
“Everything’s gonna be alright.”
This time her response was openly offended, a short and bitter laugh. “That’s a ballsy thing for one fugitive to say to another. Don’t patronize me, okay, Hayden? Just because I can’t remember my childhood doesn’t mean I’m not an adult.”
Hayden didn’t want to nettle her further, but he couldn’t help smiling. “I wasn’t patronizing you, I was testing you. And you passed.”
“Think hard. If you’ve got your Active memories back, you must remember me saying those things to you before.”
Her eyes widened as she worked it out. “It’s a trigger, isn’t it? You say the magic words, I react by the book?”
He nodded, still smiling. “I think you lost your book.”
A massage would be relaxing.
They had been on the run for months and it seemed like even longer, so finding a shelter where their stay wasn’t limited to days or weeks was a dream come true. Hayden immediately designated himself the community’s handyman and Quebec practically begged everyone to let her do their chores for them, but it didn’t take long to get comfortable there and settle into routines.
On the third night, Hayden discovered a Trivial Pursuit set and proposed using it to see if they could discern anything new about Quebec’s past, based on how she answered random questions. They couldn’t quite explain to the resident children, though, that they weren’t actually playing the game, so before long everyone was in a circle on the floor quizzing each other from battered cue cards.
“Okay,” said Hayden after an especially boisterous round of laughter had died down. “So far we’ve discovered that you’re a history buff, you’ve read more Kafka than most psychologists recommend, and you know how to ride a horse. Or we’ve discovered that you’re unreasonably good at trivia games. Is this helpful at all?”
“Maybe to you it is, since you’re obviously just trying to distract us from the fact that you’re losing miserably.” She grinned in triumph and the kids started laughing again.
Hayden looked down at the board. He was losing miserably, but most of the other players had been there long enough to have the game halfway memorized, and he wasn’t kidding about Quebec being good. He’d already known she was smart, but it seemed like every day she surprised him—-and herself—-by rattling off some obscure fact that had apparently been in her mental vault all along.
After she had won the game she escorted the other players back to their families, then stood at the base of the stairs and waved while they were hollering their goodnights. Hayden watched from the living room until the room was cleared, and then called softly, “Becky.”
She turned and rejoined him, but her face reflected some distaste along with the residual glow of the first time she’d had fun in too long. “I don’t think the ‘Becky’ thing is working for me,” she said. “I just don’t feel like a Becky.”
“We can’t keep calling you Quebec. People are starting to recognize Active names when they hear them, and outside of this community, they’re not going to be okay with that.”
She nodded and sat down on the couch, folding her legs beneath her. “All the Dollhouses use the same names for Actives?”
“Right. They’re from the NATO phonetic alphabet, one for each letter. And even guys who were named Mike or Charlie or Victor long before this happened are starting to change their names.” Hayden remembered that he had once known an Oscar, and wondered if old Oscar had the sense to take up some discretion.
“So I’m Q,” mused Quebec. She held up a hand to silence his objection before it formed. “I can be Rebecca officially, but between us...just don’t call me Becky when you know I’m not. Please?”
As comfortable as they had become with each other, he still didn’t think he had the heart to deny any kind of request from her. “It’s a deal,” he said as he sat down beside her. The couch was old, but comfortable, and the real luxury of it was knowing that they wouldn’t have to wake up before dawn and start traveling again to throw off the trail. “Do you like it here?” he asked.
“Love it.” Quebec stretched out her legs until they crossed his lap. “Who would want to invent new personalities when people as nice as these already exist in the real world?”
“Some nutcase,” he agreed, stifling a yawn. His hand absently began massaging her foot. “You know we’re pretty far from where the wedge with your memories is kept. It might take a while to work out a plan.”
She shrugged. “The past isn’t going anywhere. The future is a little more urgent. And the present...”
“Is kind of nice.”
“Yeah.” She maneuvered her other foot into his hands. “It kind of is.”
Shall I go now?
The Carter family had said their goodbyes that morning, and Quebec was obviously feeling depressed about it. Hayden found her in the bedroom staring at the television, and he stood in the doorway watching the latest news along with her before saying anything. No wonder she was depressed. There was nothing to watch but long shots of shelled buildings and politicians alternating their stock promises with warnings and safety tips.
Quebec tilted her head up from the screen and echoed his thoughts with, “Nothing new. It’s all the same war in different places.”
Hayden nodded and sat down on the edge of the bed. “But it’s getting closer. I don’t think they can hold it back from our part of the world for much longer.”
“I know.” Her voice sounded frail and sad amid the impersonal boom of the narrative voice on the news. “I didn’t want to believe it, but with the Carters leaving it’s so much more real. Besides Greg and Dover, we’re the only ones left here, and I don’t think they’ll be sticking around much longer either.”
He slipped an arm around her shoulders. “You think it’s time?”
“Yeah. I do. It doesn’t make sense to keep waiting for the wedges to arrive here anyway. Mine’s probably gone for good.”
“Don’t say that, Q.”
She shook her head in response, then shot a dirty look at the TV and reached for the remote to turn it off. “I’m just being realistic. Survival comes first. And if you’re going to keep letting me tie you down instead of saving your own self, I have to be looking out for your survival too.”
He didn’t try to form a retort for that. She had seen him turn down countless opportunities to go out on his own and leave her to her own quest to find her identity, and she had accepted that they were in it together. If she wanted to die trying to get that crucial wedge back, she already knew that he’d be dying by her side.
And what of it? This world wasn’t handing out any positive second chances at a bright new life. You had to understand what you had and cling to it with all your power.
“I don’t care about leaving here,” continued Quebec. “With all our friends gone it’s really not home like it used to be. It’s all the talk about that Chinese superweapon that really scares me.”
“Me too. Dover says the story about it being biological isn’t true, though.”
Quebec made a sound that wasn’t quite a chuckle. “Dover doesn’t know any more than the rest of us. Could be a gigantic flying deathray for all we know. That’s why it’s so scary.”
Hayden wished he could say something that would make her feel a little more secure, some assurance that his intent to protect her would actually make a difference. But he was scared too, and he didn’t know the truth about China’s impending attack any more than Dover did. “I have to ask you a favor,” he said cautiously.
She smiled up at him. “Name it.”
“Let me teach you to shoot.”
The smile vanished very quickly. “Oh, Hayden, no. You know I’m not good with guns. You’re the marksman.”
“It’s just a precaution. We don’t know what’s coming next. What if we get separated?”
Her retreat to her old habit of denial put some pressure on his temper, already weakened by the stress of recent days, and he couldn’t restrain himself from snapping at her. “Dammit, Q, you’re not a doll anymore. You’re going to have to look out for yourself.”
Immediately he regretted his choice of words. The shock on her face was enough, but when she moved out from under his arm and over to the other edge of the bed, he knew how badly he had hurt her. The return of her memories as an Active had gained her nothing; she struggled with the shame of it on a daily basis and he usually knew better than to mention it, especially like this. “I didn’t mean that,” he said. “I just can’t stand to think of you being out there without some kind of self-defense. Doesn’t mean I plan on letting it happen.”
Her eyes stayed downcast, but her voice had no signs of a grudge brewing in it. “Fine. Give me some shooting lessons. We’ve only got the one gun, though.”
He nodded. “If we find another one, we’ll know it’s time for you to start carrying it.”
He pretends we're married.
Only a few days had passed since Hayden and the leader of the New York refugees had engaged in a shouting match that didn’t stop until guns were pulled, but the two of them were already standing over maps together discussing tactics. Q was still keeping a wary eye on them, but she had to trust in Hayden’s special sense for people, and he’d said he was absolutely certain that there was no reason to fear this group.
Her own confidence in the individuals she had met had a lot less to do with intuition and a lot more to do with their parallels to her story. She even recognized one from the same Dollhouse she had escaped-—as soon as they met, she blew her cover immediately by blurting out, “Delta!”
The recognition was mutual, but Delta informed her that she was now going by the name ‘Enigma,’ and reacted with snide astonishment that Q had chosen to keep her Q. Given their lack of personality during the time they had known each other, there was little attachment between them to grace the reunion, but the information being passed around the refugees was valuable beyond friendship. For the first time in years, Q was free to disclose her origins without the threat of being put down by paranoid ‘Actuals.’
Old wedges were less attainable than ever before, and Q sometimes felt that the hunt for her memories was itself just a memory, but at least now she wasn’t the only one who had been forced to build her identity from scratch. Enigma was uncomfortably vocal about desiring her original self back, and Q had dropped a few acid remarks to Hayden about how pointless that would be when Enigma’s identity couldn’t be anything more than the same shallow and selfish girl she was now.
Survival remained Q’s primary occupation. Hayden had more skill with weapons and guerilla warfare than almost anyone else here, but to Q that just meant that they were going to rely on him whenever possible, and he was going to be in more danger because of it. She tried to compensate by reinforcing the defensive measures of their shelter, especially its secrecy, so that combat wouldn’t be coming to their door. It also seemed that she was better at gathering food and supplies than the other women, so she adopted the tasks of leading and organizing raids at the times they would be safest.
Altogether it was difficult to get any time alone with Hayden, so they took the moments that presented themselves and endured the inevitable stigma of being thought antisocial by everyone else. One day, Q kept a can of mandarin oranges in her pocket for eight hours until she had the chance to get Hayden behind a closed door and surprise him with them.
When she brought them out with a flourish, he had such a pleasing reaction that it took her a few minutes to get around to asking him why he was holding a tattoo gun.
“It’s the latest in vagabond fashion for the sane,” he said. “The idea is that everyone has their name written on their back, so if there’s a chance any of us has been wiped or imprinted, we can test each other by, you know, knowing our own names. I thought we could get a jump on it before it becomes mandatory.”
“Hm.” Q didn’t have any tattoos, but she didn’t think getting one would be a big deal, especially if it helped prove herself to the increasingly distrustful survivors. “Alright. You first?”
She started by writing the words ‘I AM’ below Hayden’s right shoulderblade, and when satisfied that it would show up against his dark skin, continued with his full name, Hayden Singer. When she was finished she set down the gun and admired her handiwork for a moment, then asked, “Does it hurt?”
He rolled his shoulders. “Eh.” Then he smiled and took her hand, drawing her down to the bed beside him. “I should probably stay off my back for a little while, though. Want to help me relax before you have the same condition?”
She complied with a smile, sliding her body beneath him and helping him peel away her shirt, heedless of how dirty it was-—they had a hard enough time finding enough water to wash their own bodies. Her hands were fumbling with his fly when a distressing thought suddenly invaded her mind and made her break away from his kiss. “What name am I going to use?” she asked.
“Mm.” He teased her lips with his own before answering, clearly in no mood for worrying. “Rebecca?”
“Nobody’s called me that in years,” she protested. “And I don’t like it.”
He leaned to the side and propped himself up on an elbow, cooperative despite her untimely interruption. “Make up something you do like, then. You know Enigma’s just going to label herself Enigma.”
Q snorted. “Enigma’s an idiot. All ‘my life is shrouded in mystery’ and ‘don’t call me by my slave name’. I’m Q. I’ve got to be something with a Q.”
Hayden ran his fingers through a lock of her short brown hair, all that remained of her once-luxurious mane. “How about Quinn?”
“Quinn? That’s a pretty name.” She frowned, still searching his inky eyes for more answers. “But what about my last name?”
He cupped her face in his hand and brought it close to him for another kiss. “Easy. Singer.”
“Hey. You’re going to let our backs get married, just like that?”
He laughed. “Q, we’ve been living as a married couple for almost as long as we’ve been telling people that’s what we are. Isn’t it a little late for fear of commitment?”
She shoved his chest just before remembering the fresh tattoo on his back, and she caught him before he could roll onto it, then went on with the argument. “It’s not like you ever properly asked me.”
The playful grin he had been wearing fell, and his voice turned serious. “I never asked because I couldn’t offer you a wedding. No church, no dress, no party...how could we make it official besides what we’ve already done?”
It was no more than she had already known, but she couldn’t deny that it was good to hear it from him. She traced a hand down his body, exploring the landscape of his corded muscles and wondering what he would have looked like in a tuxedo. “I have an idea,” she said, and pulled him back on top of her.
The next morning, she left the room with two tattoos: the one on her back which told the world her full name was Quinn Singer, and the band around her left ring finger which matched the one she had just given her husband.
It isn't finished.
Safe Haven wasn’t what they had expected, but it was indeed a safe haven, and there was nothing more that they wanted from it. Furthermore, it was real, which already made it exceed Hayden’s hopes.
They were welcomed into headquarters by an aging woman in a wheelchair who introduced herself as Caroline. She and the others in charge were clearly accustomed to newcomers entering with a little bit of shell shock, so Hayden’s reflexive aggression and Q’s nervous tics didn’t cause as much trouble as they could have. “You just need some time to calm down,” said Caroline. “We all did.”
So it was dinner, sleep, and a tour before stories were finally exchanged in a comfortable ground-level common room. A man named Ballard, who wore a brown coat and hovered around Caroline a lot, was the first to inquire, but instead of expecting a complete tale from them, he simply asked, “What did you see?”
Hayden glanced at Q to see if she was up to reliving it, and she gave him a small nod in response and took the floor. “I saw dolls,” she said. “People I used to know, only it’s been so long and they were still wiped. Or they were wiped again, I don’t know. And the people who were controlling them...well, they weren’t Butchers. I honestly think they were Actuals. They just found these Actives, or made them somehow, and decided they were going to use them for God knows what. Sex, probably. The sky is falling and all they’re thinking about is screwing girls who can’t tell them to stop.”
“We had to kill a few of the guys to get out,” Hayden put in. “Nothing we could do about the Actives, though.”
Caroline had a sympathetic nod for that confession, but she was listening to Q with great intensity. “You say you used to know them?”
“Some of them. Not their real selves, but from the time I was in the Manhattan Dollhouse. This girl Zulu, she walked right up to me and said, ‘Hello, Quebec.’ I almost screamed. And there was a Tango, and a Yankee, and an Echo...”
“Echo!” repeated Caroline, leaning forward in her wheelchair with excitement. “Describe her!”
Q furrowed her brow, thinking about it. “Black girl, pretty tall, late twenties...”
Hayden noted Caroline’s disappointment, but she was clearly beyond dwelling on it. “My body was an Echo,” she explained in response to their confused looks. “Yeah, I’m not really as old as I look.”
After all this time it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when people were not who they appeared to be, but Hayden had fallen under the impression that everyone in Safe Haven—-except for Q, of course-—had never been wiped or imprinted. How Caroline could have ended up in an old and broken body, he couldn’t guess, but her desire to get back to her own was completely understandable.
“Funny,” said Q. “You’ve got your mind but lost your body. I’m the exact opposite.”
Ballard gave her a crooked smile. “Sounds to me like you’ve got a pretty functional mind in there,” he said.
“I keep telling her that,” Hayden agreed.
Caroline smiled, but waved a hand to quiet them and addressed Q again. “I’m going to let you in on something about the Haven, but you both have to promise to keep it secret.”
Hayden and Q shared an uncertain look; they had learned to be careful with people who wanted secrets kept. This place was different, though, so they both turned back to Caroline and voiced their assent.
“We have a chair,” she said. After pausing to let that sink in, she went on to say, “And about two hundred wedges salvaged from Dollhouses around the country. If you find yours, you’re welcome to use it.”
Q’s jaw had dropped, and after he had observed that, Hayden realized that his own mouth was open too. They had more or less given up years ago on finding Q’s wedge, and he was unprepared for fortune to turn this way. All they had sought here was the means to live out their lives in relative peace, but now Q might have options about which life it was she would be living.
They searched the storage room together and found the wedge together. The information on the case included not only the word ‘Quebec,’ but also the address of the Manhattan facility, a long identification number that faintly stirred Hayden’s memory, the date that Q had first been wiped, and the completely alien name ‘Lena Caraway.’ It was hers without doubt. After reading the case, she was frozen solid for a few seconds, and then slumped to the floor, clutching it to her chest and crying profusely.
Not long afterward, Hayden paced around the Haven’s gardens—-real vegetable gardens, with real sunlight—-while waiting for her procedure to be finished. There was no point in trying to make himself concentrate on anything else. He knew that her memories couldn’t change the person she was at her core, but there were so many years to her past that neither of them had known about. Her perspective about the time they had spent together might change drastically. Perhaps she would discover something or someone that mattered to her more than anything else.
Well, if she did, he would help her find it. That was his part in her life; always had been.
She was gone for a long time, and pacing did nothing to distract him from going backward through a montage of his own memories of Q. The good ones, days of laughter and passion that seemed by their very nature to be an act of defiance against the apocalypse surrounding them. The bad ones, all too numerous and vivid, but never enough to rip them away from each other.
Then there were the memories they never spoke of, because although they could both recall them, Q hadn’t really been there. She had held his hand and said her lines and smiled at him with overpowering but artificially induced trust, but she hadn’t been his Q, just a doll who wore her face.
Hidden away even deeper in his heart were the times that she didn’t remember at all. The only blessing of the Dollhouse was that she never would; for her they were the memories of other people, women invented by a programmer and probably at this point lost forever. But Hayden could recall each one of them, and the way they would talk to him so casually of their engagements still came back to him with a little bit of inexplicable awe. One day they would be riding home in the van and she would be chattering about how much she loved her boyfriend, the next day, they were taking the exact same ride but the talk was about an entirely different boyfriend who she apparently loved just as much. If she was imprinted as a professional in a trade, she would treat him as a respected colleague; if she was in her dominatrix outfit she might flirt a little, and almost definitely drop some unwanted details about her sexual encounter.
He had put his own life on the line to protect her, more than once, long before the day that she said she had a surprise for her husband and he realized with horror that he was jealous. For months after that he had managed to suppress it, along with any other emotions that a handler should absolutely not have. But the need to keep her safe was neither taboo nor resistible, and he had felt nothing but righteous in his decision to leave his job behind and allow Quebec to choose who she wanted to trust.
It was at that thought that he heard footsteps coming toward him at a run, and he looked up to see Q, alone, anxiety painted on her features. He dashed down the garden’s path to meet her halfway, and she flung herself into his arms and squeezed him hard before letting go to look up into his eyes. “Hayden,” she gasped, out of breath, “I have to talk to you.”
“What is it? What do you remember?”
“Nothing, no, that’s just it. I didn’t go through with it.” She gripped his shoulders with both hands. “I’ve been talking to them all this time and they explained it. The wedge doesn’t work the way we thought. It’s got my identity and my memories up until the time I was wiped, but it doesn’t make room for any memories I made since then. It’s a total reset. Either/or.”
The revelation was crushing, but Hayden forced himself to comprehend its full implications, for Q’s sake. He knew what she was asking of him, and he knew he had to do it. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and then smiled at her and gently kissed her forehead. “Take the imprint, Q. Make yourself some notes first, and I’ll be here to tell you the truth about everything that’s happened, and if it’s meant to be, you and I can start over. You deserve to know your history.”
“What?” Q gave him a bizarre expression of mixed emotion, affront and amusement on top. She punched his arm. “You dolt. I already destroyed the wedge.”
Not trusting himself to speak, Hayden put his hands around her face and then rubbed them up and down her arms, trying to swallow the lump in his throat. To destroy that legendary wedge...
“I lost myself once,” Q explained, a bit of a quaver in her own voice. “I won’t do it again. My name is Quinn Singer. Lena Caraway died a long time ago, and nobody is going to raise her from the dead in my body or any other.”
Hayden nodded slowly, but the enormity of it all prevented him from complete belief, and he choked out the first objection that came to mind. “You might still have people out there. Family who misses you.”
“I have family here,” she said calmly. “Nothing’s missing anymore, Hayden. I’m real and you’re real, and what we have is real, and I’m not going to sacrifice it now that we finally have the time to enjoy it. Besides,” she added, leaning her head against his chest and settling into his embrace, “I’m pretty sure you’re the only one who can handle me.”
“That’s my job,” he whispered. “That’s why I’m here.”