Title: although in me each part
Characters: Topher, ensemble
Spoilers: 1.12, "Omega"
Length: 1,098 words
Summary: Topher is not quite terrible at pretending.
He hadn’t known her before.
He sits at the desk in his room, and suddenly Topher feels like a child at a table, playing grown-up, waiting for his mother to come home. Suddenly nauseous, he clambers to his feet and scrubs his face and hair with his palms, swallowing down the impulse to grab his wastepaper basket and hurl what was left of whatever meal he ate last.
Chinese. He'd made Ivy get it.
He looks at the chair (his chair), looks at the machinery (his machinery), looks at the archives (his archives). He touches the switches, the buttons, the data drives, the wires. He stands there until he can't stand there anymore, and then he goes into the other room and paces. And when he can't do that anymore, he sits on the couch and holds his head in his hands.
I know who I am.
"You are sad," Echo says.
She is painting. He is standing above her, nervously scratching his wrist with uncut fingernails. Topher absent-mindedly notices that he is beginning to draw blood by doing this, and awkwardly drops his hand. "What?"
"You are sad," Echo says again, the exact same tone, and he falls back into reality.
Topher begins to reassure her, feels the well-practiced words bubbling up, I'm fine, don't worry, everything will be alright, but instead he says, "I like your painting."
"It's a fish."
(He signed his name with it--we thought it was a fish but it--)
"Is it a happy fish?" he asks, when he can breathe again.
Echo looks down at the painting thoughtfully before turning her sunny, vacant face up to him, smiling dreamily. "It's a lonely fish," she says.
He doesn't leave the imprint room for a week.
Adelle calls him into the office.
"You're working too hard."
"You're working too hard.” Ouch. That was lame. Maybe he's more sleep-deprived than he'd previously thought. "I mean, not that that would be a bad thing, with you. You work really hard at being the big--scary--boss-lady thing, and you do a very good job at it. Has anyone told you that? You are by far the best scary boss lady I know."
"Topher," Adelle says. She is using the voice that she uses on the dolls. The soothing, calming, take-a-seat voice. The hairs on the back of his neck bristle.
"I've been working on new imprints," he says, loudly, over whatever she was about to say. "A veterinarian--did you know that cats have glow in the dark urine? I mean, only when you—"
"Topher," Adelle says again, and this time it is louder than him, and sterner, and solid. He shuts up. "You are working too hard. You are sleeping too little. And as much as I appreciate the sudden change in priority, your health is suffering." She looks at him critically, with the business-lady eyes that can see right through him, and he wants to go back to his room and look at brain scans and not deal with real people. "When was the last time you ate?"
"I don’t need to eat," he tells her. "I’m a super-genius."
She makes him eat a piece of cheese in front of her, right in her office while he’s sitting in one of her perfect plush velvet chairs, and then she tells him to sleep. He knows that she'll be watching whether he does or doesn't, and suddenly he doesn't care anymore, so he crawls into his bed in his clothes and buries his face in the pillow and waits for the nightmares to come.
Sometimes he wonders if he's a doll that they imprinted with really awesome computer skills, and then he realizes that Adelle would probably want someone who took orders better.
Sometimes he looks at the chair after not sleeping and thinks, I could erase this.
Sometimes, when Echo asks if she should go, he almost says No.
He begins to spend more time around the dolls. They accept him warmly, as he programmed them to. He watches them be bison, zombies, vacant, and they watch him be nervous and tired and quiet. He is too quiet now, but they wouldn't know the difference because they are happy happy sheep in a happy happy zen garden.
Victor's scars heal. Clients still roll in. Topher thinks that the scars probably make Victor look more badass and devilishly handsome to anyone who doesn't know the story behind them.
Today the herd is reading a book, curled up on the couch near the stairs. Sierra smiles at the picture of the big red house, and Topher tries too hard not to see his best friend playing video games on the floor with her hair beneath spread beneath her like a fan. Victor holds the book gently by the edge, and Topher looks at the scars across his mouth and thinks about the coppery taste of blood.
Echo says, "Hello," and smiles at him.
Topher lets the calm, normal smile cross his face. "Hello."
"We are looking at a story," Echo says, looking at him warmly. "It is about a family. Would you like to read with us?"
"No—no, I think I’ll just—stay over here," he forces out, and she only looks at him for a moment more before returning her gaze to the pictures.
He could make her into a doctor, maybe, and ask her to look inside his head and tell him whether he's a monster. But he knows that he couldn't, because he would only program her to say that he isn't.
After a while, he falls easily back into routine, and Adelle stops forcing food down his throat. Boyd still looks at him sideways in the hallway but Topher can grin haphazardly enough to make the cop's eyes stop looking through him. He can talk, and he can grin, and he can seem almost mad-scientisty enough to get everyone to roll their eyes and cross their arms at him, and it is almost enough.
The next time he wipes Echo, she touches his cheek.
The next time, his shoulder.
The next time, his hand.
Topher had almost thought that he'd forgotten how it feels to not be lonely.
He sits at his desk and twists the lollipop over and over in his hand and thinks about being a monster and when he puts it in his mouth he crunches through it instead of sucking and goes to sleep with the light on.