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.
Warnings: Show level violence
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 corridors are dimly lit by track lighting that runs along the floor near the walls. Spaced at even intervals on the ceiling, glowing red bulbs the size of ball bearings mark the position of each security camera. Their neon presence is impossible to miss in the deep shadows above them. Jared fights the urge to make a face at the cameras as they pass underneath. Cameras always bring out his goofball tendencies. A family home video isn't complete without at least one extreme close up of Jared's face, eyes crossed and tongue protruding.
They walk slowly and calmly, Aldis in front, Jared and Dean side by side in the middle, and Christian bringing up the rear. Dean has adopted his vacant expression again and Jared keeps a hand on his lower back, guiding him as if he were already in his doll state. To anyone watching the security monitors, it should appear as though Jensen's handlers are simply taking him to the treatment room for his post-engagement wipe. Nothing unusual there.
Once they reach their destination, Aldis is immediately in his element. He puts a finger to his lips before moving quickly to a terminal where he accesses the camera feeds. With a few rapid keystrokes, he programs all the security monitors to show footage from the previous week. A dozen more, and the audio feeds from the embedded microphones in the room fall silent.
"That should buy us some time," he says, his grin one of supreme self-satisfaction.
Dean's eyebrows go up. "That's awesome, dude. What else can you control from here?"
"Lights, thermostat, anything hooked into the main grid, which is just about everything."
"Cool," Dean says, obviously impressed.
"Okay, what next?" Jared asks. Adrenaline is already flushing his system, making him feel amped up and anxious, impatient to get moving.
"Next, we set up a re-programming assembly line," Christian states matter-of-factly. "The Actives sleep in pods, five to a room. We bring them in here, one room's occupants at a time. They'll be sleepy and disoriented from the gas used in the pods to partially sedate them at night, so it'll probably take two or three of us to herd them in here. While we do that, Aldis will locate their original personality tapes. Then we get each one into the chair, download their memories and personality, de-activate the implants, and take them out to Clif and the van."
"What about the two people Traci told me were staying overnight in the clinic for observation? How do we get them past her?"
Aldis's gaze slips off to the side. He chews on the corner of his mouth for a second before answering Jared's question with a cryptic, "I'll take care of Traci. She won't be a problem. We'll leave those two till close to the end."
Christian, mouth set in a firm line, studies him as though he wants more of an explanation. Jared sure does. But after a moment he shrugs, turning to Dean. "Okay Dean, what about you? We could do you first, or-"
"I'll go last," Dean cuts him off, voice as hard as steel. "It sounds like an all-hands-on-deck kinda deal and we don't know how capable Jensen's gonna be. I'd like to make sure this gets done right, before I have to..." His voice tapers off as he licks his upper lip and gestures vaguely at Aldis.
Christian nods, arms crossed over his chest, and it's settled. No one seems inclined to think about what comes after, least of all Jared.
The plan is for Christian, Jared and Dean to go together and collect the first group of Actives while Aldis finds and downloads the correct personalities. It's also his job to prepare the program that will deactivate the implants. Basically, anything technology related is Aldis's responsibility. Once the first group has received their original personalities, Christian will take them to the waiting van while Dean and Jared start the process over with the next group.
Jared learns there are three rooms with sleeping pods in them, enough to accommodate fifteen Actives, although three of the pods are currently empty - Jensen's, Chad's and Beth's. Christian tells them that this is one of the smaller Dollhouses. Some branches have as many as thirty Actives at any given time.
"Okay, I've got it. Let's stop stalling and get going," Dean says.
This time, as they walk the halls, they're unconcerned about putting on a show for the video cameras thanks to Aldis and his skills.
The closest sleeping room is down the spiral staircase, behind the communal shower area. A switch on the wall activates the semi-transparent lids and, when Christian flips it, all five slide soundlessly into recessed backdrops at the same time. Four pods are occupied. Three women and one man, all under the age of twenty-five from the looks of them, sleep soundly inside the coffin-like depressions in the floor. Jared doesn't know their names, but he recognizes one of the woman as the Active he saw coming back from an engagement dressed like a hooker from earlier in the evening.
Not a one of the sleepers so much as stirs.
"We're gonna have to be pretty hands on here, "Christian says. "The pods are designed to circulate air laced with a gas that keeps them sleeping deeply all night long. In the morning, the vents automatically switch over to pure oxygen and the dolls wake on their own. Right now though, they're in the middle of a deep sleep cycle. Just remember, no loud noises."
He demonstrates by hopping into the nearest pod, kneeling next to the girl there, and gently shaking her shoulder until she opens her eyes. He speaks to her in that soft, cajoling voice he uses with Jensen when he's in his doll state, infinitely patient and kind.
It's immediately obvious to Jared why Christian said it would take two or three of them to escort one small group of actives at a time into the treatment room. The first girl needs help just to sit up. She leans against Christian, her head on his chest, long honey-brown hair hanging in her face.
"They'll get better once they're out of the pods and away from the gas," he says as he lifts her up, setting her on the edge so he can climb out after her.
Leaving her there to recover a bit on her own, he goes to the next one, the young man. Dean and Jared each follow his lead and take on the task of waking the remaining two females.
Inside his chosen pod, Jared gives an experimental sniff. The gas must be odorless because he can't smell a thing. He does begin to feel a little light-headed though, so he quickly gets busy waking the sleeping girl.
The girl Jared ends up helping to her feet just happens to be the one he now thinks of as 'hooker girl', which is wrong in every possible way, but he can't seem to shake that visual. Now, she's wearing soft, light-grey pajama pants and a plain white t-shirt, a far cry from the fishnet stockings and black teddy of earlier.
"Where are we going?" she asks, confusion in her guileless, blue eyes.
He could tell her anything, anything at all, and she'd accept it without question. Jared knows this and it fills him with sadness. So many people have violated this unfortunate girl; so many people have taken advantage of her vulnerability.
"I'm taking you home," he tells her.
She tilts her head, regarding him somberly. "Home," she says, testing the word on her tongue as though it has a flavor she's never tasted before. "Yes, I think I'd like to go home."
Jared helps her out of the pod and she joins the two dolls Christian has shepherded near the door. They flock together, taking comfort in each other. Again, Jared is reminded of helpless sheep and he knows that getting them away from here is the right thing to do. The only thing.
Dean is still inside the fourth pod. The girl at his side has almond-shaped eyes and glossy black hair cut short to frame her face. As Jared approaches she pouts and says, "I tried talking with him, but he won't answer me."
Sure enough, Dean's mouth is pinched tightly shut. His face is pale and he's swaying with one hand clamped over the knot on his head.
Panic engulfs Jared like a tidal wave. His heart slams against his ribcage. Traci's offhanded comments about Dean's alcoholic and self-destructive tendencies and what they say about the stress he's under come back to him in a rush. Combined with everything else that's going on, a breaking point is lurking on the horizon and Jared isn't sure what that break is going to entail or how he's supposed to repair the damage when it does. The idea that there's nothing he can do terrifies him.
Lurching forward, he jumps into the pod and grabs Dean just as his knees buckle. "Easy, easy. I gotcha," he murmurs as Dean gasps into his neck.
Peripherally, he's aware of Christian collecting the raven-haired girl and ushering her away with quiet reassurances.
A shaky chuckle from Dean gets his full attention. "Wow, that boy's got some spunk," he gasps.
"What boy?" Jared doubts he's talking about the young man who is standing demurely, shifting from foot to foot, beside Christian.
"Jensen. He's...he's pissed off, like royally pissed off. He's trying to take control. I actually think I blacked out for a moment there." He pulls back just far enough to look Jared in the eye, but not so far that they lose contact. His lips twitch up in a brief smile. "I'm glad he's got some backbone, you know? Makes me feel better about...leaving."
Jared doesn't feel any better. In fact, he feels sick. Listening to Dean talk about Jensen as though he's a different person, about leaving as though he's abdicating a throne to a rival, makes nausea burn in his belly.
Dean reaches up, cards fingers through Jared's hair, and brushes a thumb over the furrows in his brow like he wants to smooth them out. "It's gonna be okay," he say, voice husky.
It won't. How can it be?
"Yeah." Jared nods.
Christian's gaze is sharp and appraising as they climb from the pod and rejoin him and his small flock. "You guys good?" he asks.
"Peachy," says Dean and, when Christian looks at him, Jared gives him a tight smile and a nod.
"Yeah, that's what I thought." Christian sighs, but says nothing else.
They successfully move their group into the corridor and that's where things start falling apart. While getting one doll to cooperate is generally a simple matter, getting four to all move in the correct direction at the same time is nearly impossible. It's not that they are willful or obstinate, it's more that they have the short attention spans Jared associates with toddlers.
One says she's hungry and the other three agree. They all begin walking toward the dark cafeteria, oblivious to the fact that there's no food available because it's the middle of the night.
Christian explains it's too early for food and tells them they'll eat later, which they accept, however, they get distracted by the yoga mats laid out in preparation for the next class and decide some exercise before breakfast would be a great idea.
Exasperated, Dean says, "Is that what I look like? Do I really act like that?" He sounds mortally offended by the very idea.
Torn between teasing him and reassuring him, Jared puts an arm around his shoulders. "No, that's not how you act. In your doll state you're much sweeter."
Dean glares, but then his glare becomes a smirk as he turns on the charm. "Well, of course I am. I'm down-right adorable."
Jared just shakes his head and tries not to think about how much he's going to miss this.
Again, it's Christian who gets them all moving toward the treatment room once more.
Aldis greets them at the door, a broad grin on his face and a personality tape in his hand. "I found the original tapes for everyone in that first room," he announces.
"Awesome. You get to go to the front of the class," Dean snarks, humor making his green eyes snap.
The first to get her personality back is the raven-haired girl. She happily gets in the chair to receive her treatment as all good dolls are programmed to do and Aldis begins buckling the restraints around her wrists and ankles.
"Is that necessary?" Jared asks. "I mean, think about it. She's gonna wake up in a room with four men, who she won't recognize, looming over her and she's gonna be restrained. Don't you think that's liable to freak her out just a little?"
Aldis stares blankly at him, like it's never crossed his mind how that might make a person feel. Empathy truly isn't the tech genius's strong suit. "Well, technically a download of the original personality doesn't hurt and she probably won't squirm, but it'll be safer to have her strapped in on the off chance she decides she's changed her mind halfway through, you know what I'm saying?" His eyes widen.
Icy tendrils of foreboding crawl up Jared's spine, his attention zeroing in on one particular point. "Hold up. What do you mean by 'technically'? Haven't you done this before?"
"No." Aldis shakes his head. "I've never done it, although I've heard its been done at other facilities, just not at this one."
Jared's head swims and he has to take a deep breath before he can continue. "But...the Actives sign a contract for five years and then they leave with a large paycheck. That's that Alaina told me."
"Yeah, that's the Company line. That's what all new employees are told."
"So once they're here, they never leave. Is that what you're saying? How is that possible? None of the Actives I've seen are over the age of twenty-five. What happens to them once they age out?"
"Oh, they leave. Once Alaina is done with them, they disappear - here one day, gone the next. I never asked what happens to them. I didn't want to know." Aldis drops his gaze. "None of them got their original personalities back before they left though, that I can guarantee."
Christian yanks his hair out of the rubber band holding it back and runs his hands through it. His movements are jerky, his face red with suppressed rage. If spontaneous combustion was a possibility, Christian would be a prime candidate.
"You didn't know?" Jared asks.
Eyes blazing, Christian spears him with a look. "I knew they were being mistreated. I knew no one would willingly sign up to be used this way, no matter how big the paycheck. But I thought they did get out, go home, whatever, when the contract was over. I never gave it much thought when I noticed they were gone." He shakes his head, his fury turning inward. "I should have."
This new information ups the ante big time. Not only are they saving people from a morally corrupt company, but they may very well be saving lives. Jared's resolve strengthens. Grinding his teeth together so hard his jaw aches, he says, "Let's get a move on. We still have a lot to do before morning."
Dean, who has been silent throughout this entire exchange, puts a supportive hand on Jared's shoulder. There's a dark and twisted irony in Dean having to comfort him when by all rights it ought to be the other way around. Screw irony, Jared thinks as he lets Dean's touch ground and center him.
The download goes off without a hitch, blue lights glowing, machine humming, no restraints required. When the girl opens her eyes, she's confused and understandably frightened. Jared pulls out the puppy-dog eyes and manages to convince her, relatively quickly, that they mean her no harm.
She tells them the last thing she remembers is walking home from a study group in Calgary where she attends Reeves College. She insists the year is 2012. Three years are missing from her life. Three years have been stolen from her. No one has the heart to tell her that part yet.
And besides, they don't have the time necessary to tell her everything and deal with the inevitable fall-out their news will bring. Time is ticking down. Jared feels the pressure mounting. There are still fourteen more people to save, fourteen more personalities to restore, and they only have a couple hours before the other handlers begin arriving for work.
Aldis runs a small electronic device that looks like a taser over the spot behind her ear where the implant is embedded. He swears the implant is now deactivated, although Jared can't tell one way or the other as there is no visible evidence. He has to take Aldis's word for it.
They perform the same steps on the next three Actives with very similar results each time. A pattern quickly emerges. All four young adults were college students, all physically active, involved in sports or, in one case, gymnastics. It makes sense, now, why all the people here are so attractive. The Actives aren't a cross section of average people who decided they wanted to escape their lives for one reason or another. The Rossum Corporation has obviously targeted them for their looks and their athleticism. They only take people who fit their purposes. It's quite possible that not a single one of these people are here of their own free will.
Christian then ushers all four out to the van with promises that they'll be told everything in due time.
As they file out the door, Jared asks, "Where is Clif taking them?"
"I know about a safe house nearby through a connection of mine. It's well protected and he can get there and back in time to pick up the next group. They can stay there until we figure out our next move."
Not for the first time, Jared wonders about Christian's past. Safe houses and connections imply covert operations, espionage, and intelligence organizations like the CIA. Just one more reason to believe there's more to Christian than meets the eye.
Jared looks at his watch - 4:11am and they're only down four Actives. Eleven to go with about three hours until things start getting dicey. They need to pick up the pace.
He and Jared go alone to the next sleeping room. Luckily, this room has the fewest number of occupants. The three residents, all female, are fast asleep in their pods. One of the empty pods belongs to Jensen. The other must belong to Chad or Beth, the two dolls currently under Traci's care at the clinic.
"We gotta make this quick," Jared says and Dean nods.
By the time they get back to the treatment room with the latest batch, Christian is already there waiting for them.
They repeat the same steps as before - download personality, employ puppy-dog eyes, deactivate implant, and repeat.
The five from the final room, four women and one man - the ratio definitely favors women as the gender of choice here at the Dollhouse - go the same way.
Jared's optimism increases. They're making better time now, much better. All that's left is to snatch the two in the clinic out from under Traci's nose and then it'll be Dean's turn.
Dean's turn to be wiped forever - obliterated as if he'd never been.
Jensen's turn to be restored.
Jared's heart stops momentarily only to start up again with a ka-thunk, ka-thunk, ka-thunk, so hard it actually hurts.
Not yet though, not yet. There's still time. Time for what, Jared doesn't know.
Dean scratches absently at his arm, seemingly unconcerned. If he's thinking about his imminent wipe, he sure isn't showing it. "What about those two at the clinic?"
"Three," Aldis says.
Jared thinks back. "Traci didn't mention a third."
"No, she wouldn't 'cause she doesn't know." Aldis chews on the cuticle of his thumb, nerves showing. "Remember when I told you we had a full-time Active, one who never gets wiped? Keeps her alternative personality around the clock?"
Understanding knocks him for a loop. "Traci," Jared says on a heavy exhale. "Shit."
"That about sums it up," Aldis agrees.
Christian throws his hands in the air. "How do we get her to sit in the chair? She's not gonna do it willingly and the remote wipe phrase only works if the Active's handler says it."
"Yeah well, see, that's where we're in luck." Aldis bends over a computer keyboard, clicks away for a few seconds before continuing, talking so quietly that Jared can barely hear him. "I'm her handler."
Dean frowns. "Okay, that sounds like good news. So what's the problem, Einstein? You look like someone stole your ice cream cone."
"Traci and I got here at about the same time. They made me her handler because she and I are the only staff at the facility on a full-time basis. It just made sense. But even though I'm her handler, I've never had to handle anything. She never gets wiped." He looks up, eyebrows raised, mouth slanted in a crooked smile, beseeching. She's my co-worker, the only person here I can talk to. She's my friend. I was thinking-"
"No Aldis!" Christian makes an abortive, slashing gesture with one hand. "She's a person, just like the rest of them. A person whose life has been stolen by the Company we work for. And we're gonna give it back to her."
Jared risks a furtive glance at Dean from under his bangs, but either he's hiding it really well, or Christian's little rant about stolen lives wasn't a knife to his heart like it was for Jared.
Striking one last key, Aldis takes a deep breath. "Yeah, okay."
The clinic's lighting is subdued in deference to the sleeping patients. Traci is sitting at a small desk in the outer room, jotting notes on what looks like a patient file, when they come in, all four of them. It isn't necessary for them all to be there. Somehow it seems fitting though, like they want to pay their last respects. Like it's a funeral.
She looks up in surprise, but a grin quickly steals over her face.
"To what do I owe this pleasure?"
Aldis's answering smile doesn't reach his eyes. "Hey Traci." He puts his hand over hers where is rests on the desk, gives it a brief squeeze. "You, uh, how are you doing?"
Her smile dissolves, gaze flitting to Dean and then back to Aldis. She pushes her glasses up so they rest on the crown of her head. "Is something wrong?"
"No, nothing's wrong. I just needed to ask you something." He takes a breath and meets her puzzled gaze head on. "A-are you ready for your treatment?"
The intelligence and awareness in her eyes dulls and brightens, dulls and brightens, like a trick candle that refuses to go out no matter how hard the birthday boy blows, each time reigniting, stronger than before. The battle for Traci's life wages on silently within her, the personality she's had for so many years fighting for survival. Although not a drop of blood is shed and not a single blow is struck, it's the most gruesome thing Jared has ever seen.
Aldis turns away, choking on a sob, unable to watch.
Christian swears under his breath and looks down.
Dean gently takes Jared by the shoulders and turns him around until they're face to face. "Don't watch," he says, pulling him forward into an embrace, shielding him.
In the end, as Traci loses her fight and her light finally gets snuffed out, Dean is the only one to bear witness.
On to Chapter 8a
Start at Chapter 1