Pairing: J2 or Jared/Dean depending on how you look at it
Characters: Jared, Jensen, Christian Kane, Alaina Huffman, Aldis Hodge, Ty Olsson, Traci Dinwiddie, (minor roles: Eric Kripke, Beth Riesgraf, and Chad Michael Murray)
Genre: H/C, RPS, AU(set in the Dollhouse universe)
Disclaimer: None of these people belong to me; they all belong to themselves. None of this is true in any way, shape or form. I made it all up.
Word Count: 4,000 this part (46,000 in total)
Summary: Jared's life is turned upside down the night he meets an intriguing young man who seems to have multiple personality disorder. Is he Dean - dangerous, charming and troubled? Or Jensen - naive and almost child-like? This chance encounter leads to a job offer with a mysterious organization called the Dollhouse.
A/N: Thank you to my best friend, alpha reader, and biggest cheerleader, . She always has my back! All the beautiful artwork for this story was made by her. Thank you sweetie! My beta reader, , did an absolutely fantastic job! This story is made better by her wonderful insights. Their enthusiasm has given me the confidence to post a story again after a one year long dry stretch. This story is completly written and betaed. My plan is to post one chapter per week. Comments are very much appreciated. In fact, they are the whole reason I write and post stories instead of keeping them in my head. :)
The inside of the black van holds more surveillance equipment than Jared's precinct could afford in two years on their tight budget. Monitors, buttons, and dials take up the entire back half of the vehicle. Two stools are bolted to the floor in front of a console where red and green lights flash like a high-tech Christmas display.
The large, bald man sitting in the driver's seat looks Jared up and down through the open side door, brows furrowed. "This the guy?" he finally asks.
"Yeah, he's the one." Christian gives a brief nod while helping Dean - or possibly Jensen - get in and settled on the long bench seat between the surveillance set-up and the driver's seat. Once that's accomplished, he rucks up Dean's pant leg and casually removes the compact blade nestled in a sheath at his ankle. Dean doesn't object or even seem to notice that he's just been disarmed.
Annoyed by all the intrigue as well as at being discussed as though he were an inanimate object, Jared stands at his full height, shoulders squared. "And you are?"
Christian finishes buckling Dean's seatbelt and says, "Clif likes to think he's the muscle, but really, he's just the chauffeur."
Clif flips Christian off and Christian smirks a self-satisfied grin before getting into the front passenger seat.
A million questions run through Jared's mind, but Clif starts the engine so there's nothing for him to do except get in and sit next to Dean on the bench seat, unless he wants to be left standing on the sidewalk, watching the black van drive off without him. Trying to arrest all three of these men isn't going to work and besides, he doesn't have anything to charge them with. This whole thing is beginning to smell like a covert government operation and he most likely won't get any information from the field troops anyway. He figures answers will be forthcoming only once they arrive at their destination.
His gun in its holster at his waist makes him feel as though he still has some control. No one has tried to take it away from him which means it's not an abduction or hostage situation. At least that's what Jared tells himself to justify his willingness to go with them. Really though, it's more because his curiosity won't allow him to walk away from this.
Eyes closed and a peaceful look on his face, Dean begins nodding off as soon as they pull onto the deserted street. Jared has never seen a grown man fall asleep so quickly. He must have been beyond exhausted. A dip in the road causes him to list sideways. Jared thinks the movement will awaken him and he'll sit up, maybe embarrassed at having conked out like a young child. Instead, he continues on a slide that will soon have him in an uncomfortable sprawl, held in place only by the seat belt around his middle.
Jared's naturally protective nature kicks in with a vengeance and he pulls Dean against his chest, supporting his head so that he's as comfortable as possible. Even this fails to wake him. The slight pout on his full lips only accentuates his vulnerability. It's all Jared can do to stop himself from carding his fingers through Dean's hair, like he does with his cousin's little boy.
Dean seems so helpless now, as though he's shrinking somehow, getting smaller by the second. He's not; he's still physically the same full-grown man he was in the alley. But something has changed and Jared feels an overwhelming need to keep him safe, by whatever means necessary.
Christian looks back at them, expression unreadable, eyes flinty. "I told Huffman they were working him too hard," is all he says.
Clif snorts, opens his mouth to respond, but closes it again when he catches Jared's eyes in the rear-view mirror.
"So, who is Huffman?" Jared asks. It isn't his most urgent question, but it's a starting point.
"She runs the operation here in Vancouver and that's all I can tell you. Anything else you want to know will have to wait until we get there." Christian faces forward again, mouth set in a grim line.
Jared inclines his head. Just as he'd suspected.
They pull into a parking garage in the middle of the downtown area. The sign on the nearest building says Rossum Corporation. Like most people, Jared is familiar with the name. Rossum is a worldwide drug conglomerate and medical equipment manufacturer, responsible for the most recent advances in MRI technology. News stories about the Company alternate between praise for medical breakthroughs and condemnation for scandals regarding everything from animal test subjects to fraudulent medical studies. Allegations of misconduct on the part of the Company never stick however.
Clif parks next to several other black vans and Christian reaches back, waking Dean with a gentle shake, unlatching his seatbelt, and urging him out of the vehicle. Dean is wobbly on his feet, the skin around his eyes puffy and red, but he doesn't make a fuss as Christian ushers him the short distance from the van to an elevator set in the concrete wall. Clif boards the elevator as well and presses the down button.
Jared takes a last look around, committing the parking structure and his surroundings to memory, and then follows.
The elevator doors open on a service corridor, blank white walls, white tile floor, white ceiling, and not a window in sight. Jared realizes they are now underneath the building, underneath the very streets of Vancouver. At the far end is a set of double doors, also white. Christian pulls the doors wide open and says, "Welcome to the Dollhouse, Jared."
For a moment Jared can't move. This is nothing like what he'd expected. Through the double doors is the most lavish spa he has ever seen. The decor consists of muted earth tones, warm browns along with calming blues and greens, burnished hardwood floors. Exotic looking potted plants enhance the zen atmosphere. An open floor plan draws his gaze up a wide, circular staircase which leads from the middle of the atrium-like first floor up to an observation platform on the second floor.
People dressed in loose fitting clothing, mostly white or light pastel in color, walk slowly and gracefully between areas on the first floor. A yoga class is in progress on a slightly raised dais, about ten people moving through various poses in perfect synchronization. Glass walls separate a dining area from rooms where men and women are receiving massages. The overall effect is really quite beautiful, but the serene expression on every face he sees is somewhat disconcerting, even if he can't put his finger on why.
Dean has had the same expression ever since Christian showed up in that alley.
"Who are all these people? What is this place?" Jared asks.
Christian takes a deep breath through his nose, nostrils flaring, and narrows his eyes. "Ms. Huffman will explain everything." He puts a hand on Dean's back. "I'm going to take Jensen for his treatment. Clif will show you the way to Huffman's office. She's waiting for you."
All four of them ascend the staircase. At the top, Christian takes Dean to the left. Dean walks with his head down, leaning against Christian, compliant, and Jared has the sudden image of a lamb being led to slaughter. It's only with immense effort that he turns away, following Clif through a door on the right.
He is greeted immediately by a tall redhead wearing a chic dress that shows off her trim figure. Her very red lipstick matches her nail polish and her long hair is pinned up in an elaborate style, perfect ringlets framing her face. Everything about her screams good breeding and money. Lots of it.
"Mr. Padalecki, I'm so glad you decided to accept my invitation." The woman extends her hand and, for a second, Jared isn't sure whether he's supposed to shake it or kiss it.
He settles for giving her hand a brief squeeze, his own hand engulfing her much smaller one completely. "You have an interesting way of inviting someone for a visit."
She smiles, but it's not a warm or friendly expression. In a cold, emotionless voice she says, "Well, in my defense, Jensen caught us all off guard. We weren't prepared for you tonight, Mr. Padalecki. Even so, his timing couldn't have been better."
Jared runs a hand through his hair, frustration making his movements jerky and his voice tight. He's not in the mood for more cryptic statements. He's been more than patient and now it's time for some fucking answers. "What does that even mean, you weren't prepared for me? And what did your men do to Dean? What are they doing to him now? Is he okay?"
Ms. Huffman crosses to a sideboard and pours herself a drink from a crystal decanter. Tilting the bottle, she offers to pour one for him.
Jared declines. Technically, he's still on the clock and he's pretty sure he's going to need a clear head for whatever comes next.
"The man you met tonight - Dean? That man doesn't exist," Ms. Huffman says.
Jared wonders if the woman could be any more vague. He snorts his displeasure because this is getting ridiculous.
The woman takes a long swallow and places her glass on the ornate table. "Okay, let me cut to the chase. Tonight, you met Jensen. Like all our Actives, he signed a contract, turning his body and his mind over to the Rossum Corporation for a term of five years. Our carefully-screened clients are given access to him for various purposes. By means of a highly technical process, we are able to make him into whatever the client requests. If they want a race car driver, he is given the memories, personality and skills of a race car driver. If they want a night of passion they'll never forget, he's given the requisite skills. You get the picture." She smiles a crocodile's grin. "At the end of the five years he gets to leave, mind restored and body intact, with a significant increase in his bank account. Jensen has been with us for three and a half years."
All the while, Ms. Huffman stares at Jared as though her gaze alone can bore right through him; tear him apart and put him back together in a pattern of her own choosing. Jared stares back, listening intently, waiting for her explanation to become rational.
"Our Actives give us a great privilege and with it comes great responsibility," she continues loftily, as though she's addressing a board room full of business men. "It's our duty to protect them when they are out on an engagement, as well as when they are in their most vulnerable states as dolls. Although everyone on staff here at the Dollhouse looks after them, each Active is assigned a handler whose sole responsibility is keeping that one Active safe. Christian Kane is Jensen's handler, but Jensen is a special case and it has recently come to my attention that a second handler would be in his best interests. So you can understand why we have need of your services, Mr. Padalecki."
Jared feels both his eyebrows go up in astonishment at the cool, dispassionate way in which the woman has just described what amounts to human slavery and trafficking once you get past all the crazy talk. "Actually, Ms. Huffman, I'm afraid you're going to have to explain it to me again, starting with how this is legal, much less moral."
She purses her bright red lips together and says, "I assure you that none of our Actives are here against their will. They all have reasons for wanting to be here. They come to us, we don't do anything to persuade them. Jensen is no exception."
"Fine. For the sake of argument, let's say I believe you." He doesn't believe her, doesn't believe any of it, and even if they do have signatures on a piece of paper, that doesn't make this right. But he needs to keep her talking. The more he knows and understands about what's happening here, the better his chance at ending it. "Why me? Why do you want me as Jensen's second handler?"
Tapping her lacquered fingernails against the table behind her, she cocks her head in an assessing manner, as though she's not really sure herself. "Because Jensen chose you. He took you into his confidence while working a case as Dean. He's never done that before, gone to an outsider for help. And maybe it's because we've given him more than he can handle, I'm not sure." For the first time since beginning her explanation, she breaks eye contact, gazing at a stretch of blank wall over Jared's shoulder. With a shake of her head and a grimace, she continues. "Whatever the reason, he trusted you immediately. We all saw it. Your training in law enforcement is a plus that will come in handy as well."
Every answer she gives him only brings up more questions. It's infuriating. "Wait a minute, back up. What do you mean, he was working a case as Dean? And while you're at it, how about telling me what a doll state is and why these people need protecting in the first place."
Ms. Huffman sighs and waves one hand dismissively in the air. "I hate this part. You'll have to talk to Aldis if you want more information, he invented the technology and he loves talking about it, the smug bastard." She glances at the expensive looking watch on her slim wrist. "He's probably finishing up Jensen's treatment now. You'll want to see Jensen too, I suppose?"
Jared nods. Yes, he definitely wants to see Jensen, make sure he's okay. All this talk about using peoples' minds and bodies has made him even more concerned for Jensen's well-being than he had been in the alley when Dean began talking about harpies.
She escorts him to what she calls 'the treatment room', where opulence gives over to high-tech computer equipment. Display screens line the walls and sit on utilitarian tables, some showing human brain scans, others charting what looks like brain wave activity.
Jensen lies in a strange apparatus that looks like a futuristic dentist's chair, only more sinister. There are electrodes pasted to his head and his eyes are closed. Although his wrists are buckled into the contraption, he appears so tranquil that he could be asleep or possibly sedated.
The dark-skinned man standing over Jensen startles when they walk in, as though he's not used to being interrupted while he's working. "Ms. Huffman?" he says, hands suspended mid-air, a cassette tape dangling from one.
"Aldis, this is Jared. He's considering my employment offer and has some questions for you about your part in the process."
In his head, Jared disputes the assertion that he would consider working in this place, but he lets the comment go for now.
Aldis' boyish face lights up like he's just been given the Nobel Peace Prize. "Ah yes, well, the tech really is over the top. Not to boast or anything." He grins, flashing white teeth. "What do you want to know? How we wipe their memories? Or how we imprint them with new personalities? Maybe you're wondering about the genius involved in splicing together personalities from the hundreds of MRI scans transmitted here daily."
Jared's breath comes in shallow puffs. He purposefully slows his intake of air until he no longer feels lightheaded. Wipe their memories? This can't be real. Technology like that hasn't been invented and hopefully never will. His gaze travels from Aldis to Ms. Huffman and he's sure his shock must be written all over his face.
"Jared was asking about the doll state. Why don't you start there?" she answers for him.
Aldis makes a humming noise while he places the cassette tape in a cabinet full of shelves upon shelves of similar tapes. "Right, the doll state. That's an easy one. Dolls are like newborns." He indicates Jensen's motionless form. "They have no memories of their previous lives and their interactions are very childlike. It's important to minimize their stress levels. They can't handle anything traumatic."
"Yes, I've seen that, but-"
"Watch, I'll show you," Aldis interrupts. He unbuckles the cuffs from around Jensen's wrists, removes the electrodes, and gives his shoulder a light nudge. "All done, Jensen." His voice, when he addresses the prone man, is modulated, almost whisper soft.
Jensen's eyes blink open and he stretches, sits up slowly. In a daze, he looks around the room and, from his blank expression, it's difficult to tell whether he registers that he has an audience. The difference between this, and Dean's highly aware state, is like the difference between night and day.
"Did I fall asleep?" he asks, a slight furrow in his brow.
Aldis adopts a non-threatening pose with his hands clasped loosely behind his back. "For a little while."
"Shall I go?"
"If you wish," Aldis responds.
Their exchange has the feel of a ritual about it. Jared watches, spellbound, as Jensen swings his legs off the reclining chair, stands, and walks from the room. At the door, he turns and their eyes lock. That same, timid smile from before appears on his lips.
"Jared," he mouths.
"What is this, Aldis? I thought you wiped him." Ms. Huffman sounds annoyed, voice shrill.
"Quietly, Alaina," Aldis hushes her. "I did wipe him." Gently, he takes Jensen's arm and guides him across the threshold to where Christian is just coming up the spiral staircase. "Why don't you go with Christian? He'll take you to get some food and then you can have a nap if you like."
"Okay," Jensen nods, allowing the transfer, this time without looking back.
"Was that a glitch? Is he glitching?" Ms. Huffman demands as soon as Jensen is gone.
Aldis shakes his head, tapping the keys on the nearest keyboard. A new brain scan appears on the screen, Jensen's presumably. "I don't know. Maybe," he mumbles. "This isn't an exact science, you know? More of an art."
Jared scrunches his eyes closed and rubs at his temples. He's starting to get a migraine. "Glitches and memory wipes. You're talking about him like he's a robot. Jensen isn't a robot." Of that one thing Jared is sure. "He's a person, a human being. You can't wipe a person's memories away. People's brains don't work the same way as computers." He shouts the last sentence, hands thrown up in the air.
"That's where you're wrong." Aldis points at the monitor he's still analyzing. "A person's brain works very much like a computer. The neurons firing are like electronic circuits. All it takes to wipe a person's memory is the right combination of drugs and tech. And once their brain has been wiped clean, a blank slate if you will, it's easy to program them to do whatever you want them to do, be whoever you want them to be." Aldis looks up from the red and blue blotches on the screen, smiling in a way that makes Jared's skin crawl.
These people are insane. And what they're doing...Jared can't stomach it. He doesn't care whether the Actives - or dolls or whatever they're called - are here of their own free will or not, they need help. They aren't in any condition to speak for themselves so, until he can find a way to talk to them when they aren't in the child-like doll state and when they haven't been programed with a fake personality, he's going to assume they don't want to be here. For all he knows, they signed contracts with Rossum thinking they were going to be part of a medical study, never dreaming they were going to be used as mindless puppets.
The tricky part is figuring out how to free them. Rossum is a powerful corporation. It must have high level political connections to have dodged all the allegations of wrong-doing that have been thrown at it over the years. Make enough political contributions and you become invincible.
Jared knows there's no way they would risk letting him see this far into their operation, tell him everything he's been told, if they weren't one hundred percent sure the government was in their corner. No, exposing the Dollhouse from the outside won't work, Jared is sure of that. Luckily, he's already been offered an in.
"Yeah, I'll do it. I'll take the position. I'll have to quit my job with the force, but yeah. I accept."
Ms. Huffman studies him, head cocked, and then her mouth widens in a humorless smile. "You already care for him." Without giving Jared a chance to respond, she continues. "That's good. Your job is to take care of him, protect him. Liking him will only make your job easier."
Her callousness infuriates him. The way she talks about Jensen like he's nothing more than a toy, or a science project, makes Jared's insides twist.
Smothering his anger, Jared pretends interest in the mundane details of accepting a new position; asks about the salary, makes arrangements to surrender his sidearm and tender his resignation at the precinct, and receives instructions on his new job responsibilities, which mainly consist of being available whenever he's needed to help with Jensen, day or night. He doesn't worry about why Jensen will need him. Now that he's got the job, that information should come soon.
A knock on the door comes right as they're finishing up the paperwork in Ms. Huffman's office. Christian doesn't wait for permission before he strides through the doorway, Jensen in tow. If the look on his face is anything to go by, the man is not a happy camper.
"Why dod you page me? What is so important that it can't wait?" he snarls, voice rough as gravel. "How can we expect him to do his job when we don't let him get any rest?"
Ms. Huffman smiles her icy smile. "Now, now Christian, you know our client likes him sleep deprived. Authenticity and all that." She waves her hand in the air. "Besides, we need him prepped for the handler/active imprint. Jared has agreed to be his second handler. Take them both to the treatment room. Aldis is waiting."
Jensen is visibly flagging and Jared can't help but feel guilty for being partially responsible. Hopefully, this imprint process thingy won't take long because Jensen looks about five minutes away from collapsing.
Christian growls something under his breath as he leads them back along the observation platform and into the treatment room.
Aldis secures Jensen to the chair, tightens the buckles at his wrists, and re-attaches the electrodes. "Busy day for you, huh big guy? This is your third treatment in one day. Not that you remember the other two."
Obviously confused, Jensen simply lays there and looks at him as though he's speaking Japanese.
Aldis pats Jensen's shoulder in a condescending manner. "Okay, great. Nice talking to you too." Then he turns around, glancing at a nearby monitor. "I've got the program ready, so all I have to do is..." He presses a button and blue light radiates from the metallic plates circling Jensen's head.
Jensen's back arches off the chair, his fingers stiffening and scrabbling against the restraints, shoulders shaking, his face a rictus of pain.
Jared takes a step forward, intent only on Jensen's agony and finding a way to stop it, but Christian grabs his arm, holding him back.
"Easy son. It'll be over in a minute," he says, voice grave.
Reluctantly, Jared stops. "It looks like he's in pain," he grits out past clenched teeth.
"That's because he is in pain. Having your brain wiped and receiving new programing is an invasive procedure. It feels like dying." Aldis speaks over the hum of the machinery and the rattling sounds caused by Jensen convulsing in the chair. "He won't remember it though, so it's all good."
The scary thing is that Aldis actually seems to believe what he's saying.
Luckily for Aldis, Christian is right and it's over before Jared can act on his decision to shove the geeky genius's head through the nearest computer monitor, putting an end to Jensen's torture once and for all.
Aldis pushes another button and the blue light fades. Jensen's body relaxes as the serene expression returns to his face. When his eyes open, there's no pain, no fear, nothing that shows he remembers the trauma of being programmed.
"Okay, he's ready. So Jared, you're gonna want to come over here." Aldis points at a spot near Jensen's head while handing Jared a piece of paper. "He's got to be looking in your eyes for this next part and you need to hold his hand. Tactile proximity enhances the bonding protocol."
Jared carefully removes the restraint and picks up Jensen's left hand. Jensen allows it, unquestioning, innocently gazing up at Jared.
It takes Jared a moment before he can look away and focus on the paper in his other hand. "What's this?"
"That is your script for the imprint." Aldis says. He rolls his eyes in exasperation at Jared's blank stare. You know, call and response? Neural lock and key?" He sighs and shakes his head.
Christian steps in. "It's like when I use the remote wiping phrase during an engagement. He's programed to respond to the words. If I say them without a visual connection, it's partially effective, but if I say it while looking him in the eye, it's much more so, at least until we get back here and Aldis can do the full wipe."
Waving his hand impatiently, Aldis says, "Whatever, just...read your lines, alright?"
Jared nods, anything to get this over with faster. "Everything is going to be alright," he reads.
"Now that you're here," Jensen responds automatically, voice soft and full of awe.
"Do you trust me?"
"With my life."
A warm feeling rushes through him, almost as though he's the one being programmed. Jared slowly releases Jensen's hand.
"That's all there is to it," Aldis says. "You are now the most important person in his life."
On to Chapter 3