Spoilers: Upto 1x07
Summary: Claire can tell the difference between old and new. This version is supposedly improved but she isn't so sure it was the right thing to do. Claire/Topher UST and angst.
A/N: Kindly betaread by rodlox. Written for challenge 10 at dollhousefics using prompt “difference”.
Topher is not the Christopher Brink. Claire knew Christopher Brink. One of a kind, introvert, genius, didn't have half the charm but he was sweet and maybe too good at his job, with all of this as the result.
When Chris died they were all shocked, it was sudden, it was a curve ball for the Dollhouse. Except Chris was a genius, a forward planning genius, with a strange sense of humour. In the bottom door of his desk was a bag, labeled simply “I will live on”. That was Topher Brink on hard drive, Chris' most useful imprint ever, an amalgam of the real Chris Brink and several other geniuses of the day – he considered it an upgrade on himself, Topher 2.0.
Then they retired Zeta. James Ashby. Jamie.
Adelle rationalized that nothing about the plan broke the contract – Jamie would get his money, he'd also get the usual salary for Chris's job, and he'd just happen to think he was Topher. He'd enjoy being Topher too, job satisfaction was inbuilt. Everybody would win. And that was how it was.
Maybe Claire hadn't protested as much as she ought to, but Chris had wanted this, and she hadn't been ready to let go. Maybe none of them where ready – after all Adelle had a heart in there somewhere, she must have some feeling for those under her command.
So, Claire did everything Chris would have done, hand holding and all. “Did I fall asleep?” Zeta asks after she wipes the imprint of a cold blooded killer from his mind and she wishes she could tell him he'll never “go to sleep” again, not for a long time after this, but it would only confuse him instead of reassure. It would probably be more for her benefit anyway, to ease her conscience – her own rationalization that this is not the same, not as damaging as what they did each day – they were giving birth to a new person who was here to stay for once. Yet she can't be sure it would remain true forever, not if there are glitches, not if he exhibits a mind of his own one day and rebels from the role they want for him. Claire doesn't trust events to go smoothly.
As it turns out Topher Brink has more charm, and more arrogance too, but she can see the threads of Chris in him still and it hurts. She knows he's another doll, she's always good to them, prides herself on being humane, treating them like the people they are because they don't know what's done to them, they don't feel less; they're blank slates taking all to heart. Except she finds it harder and harder with him, can't stand who they made him, another tool in the box – a replacement to Chris, a replacement for Jamie too, and it hurts as bad though she never knew Jamie.
He doesn't really have a life outside the Dollhouse. She knows he has an apartment just like hers, provided by the company – secure, monitored. Topher seems happy that way, he has his trinkets, puzzles, DVDs and games to occupy him along with work. He's a veritable workhorse, programmed to be a happy contented workaholic genius with no moral aversion to what they do.
She knows from the logfiles Chris left on the hard drive that he tweaked it so the guy wouldn't easily form attachments. Designed to be less hassle that way, business first and foremost, it's like work, in the form of problem solving, is what he lives for and she supposes that is pretty much true. Claire can see it too; he speaks calmly to the dolls, but he speaks of them like objects of curiosity, masterpieces at best. To him they're not quite people, not deserving in the same way, not until he makes them something. The irony is heart wrenching if she thinks about it too long and occasionally she wonders how he'd react if he knew the truth. He might deny it, laugh it off, he might as well just say “oh” and withdraw. She's not entirely sure it would matter, but maybe it would, maybe it would influence his work and they'd wipe all the memories away. It's all moot anyway, she'd never say anything, she knows better.
He was set a sleeper model, designed to protect the interests of the assignment and everything he does mimics the approximation of freewill, not being a doll right down to reacting like a real person should – he got so embarrassed when she saw him in his underpants due to his little inhibition snafu including inappropriate starches with Adelle DeWitt. DeWitt had Claire wipe the tapes from the room herself. Topher thinks it as because the big boss lady was embarrassed but they know, they are the only two to share the truth. Topher glitched, just a little, and no one else can ever know. All he remembers now is all he's allowed to.
Topher flirts with her at the start, or tries to, and he's vaguely better at it than Chris was. Topher's cute at first, in a dorky genius way that she knows is so highly artificial. You wouldn't know it was; she only does because she has seem the recruitment tapes of the real him, the 22 year old boy who doesn't exist any longer, flirting with the guy on the other side of the table to mask his fear of all this, the monsters he gave in to in order to escape the greater evil. Jamie wanted to forget all his troubles and that's a luxury she can't allow herself and that Adelle DeWitt hasn't yet offered as a 'perk'.
Topher still flirts with her after years of Claire ignoring him, winks accompanying taunts, backhanded ways to get her attention like a boy in the schoolyard pinching her arm. It gets her worked up, it gets her right where he wants her, actually caring about him – passion let loose from her otherwise mild manner. No matter how close she is to wiping that arrogant smirk off his face with a ruthless kiss, from vengeance as much as lust, she can't give in. In her heart she knows it's wrong, she can't let herself use him or risk caring for someone who will one day cease to exist. He's another doll who doesn't know it, who shouldn't care enough to engage in such an activity so shamelessly (though the last bit is totally him) but what he is and should be doesn't slow him down, nor stop her wishing it were real again.