find_rightbrain: (Dollhouse (Whiskey))
[personal profile] find_rightbrain
Title: The Christmas Spirit
Characters/Pairing: Claire and Topher
Word Count: 786
Rating: PG
Summary: Topher has the Christmas spirit (sort of). Claire definitely does not.
Notes: Written for [personal profile] harbek. ...the fandom and characters is the only part of her request I actually managed. Still. It's Dollhouse! And Christmas!
Disclaimer: Dollhouse and all characters belong to Joss Whedon. I am not him, and am not making any money from this.

Nobody notices Christmas in the Dollhouse. Or at least, they pretend not to, though the handlers with families to go home to start to get cranky and irritable when engagements keep them from going home, and everyone without anywhere to go does their best to pretend they don't mind that they don't. The Dollhouse is a place set outside of time and the rest of the world, untouched by all of it - including holidays.

Except that there's a Christmas tree in Topher's office.

Claire doesn't even know where it came from - she's pretty sure Topher leaves the Dollhouse only slightly more often than she does - and she's not sure how he got it inside. She decides to ignore it, and manages for a week and a half, until India comes back from an engagement red-eyed and sniffling. Claire gives her an antihistamine, sends her to dinner, and reluctantly heads up to Topher's office.

He doesn't seem to notice her when she first steps inside. She waits for a moment, hovering near the doorway, weighing the options of backing out now and just writing up a very stern memo - which he will never read. That won't do anyone any good, and India will still be sneezing. She clears her throat.

Topher yelps and swings away from his computers to face her, hands held up like he expects some kind of attack. Claire stares at him for a second, as if to say did you really just do that? After another second or two, they both seem to silently agree they'll both pretend that didn't happen. "What?" Topher asks, a little too indignant in order to cover embarrassment.

Claire folds her arms over her chest, gives him a skeptical look for just a moment longer, and then nods to the stunted Christmas tree in the corner of his office. "You need to get rid of that."

Topher eyes her for a second, lips pressed together, eyes skittering over her face like he's afraid to let them rest there too long, like he's fighting not to focus on the scars. They weren't ever friends, but since the incident, he's... uncomfortable around her. She can't blame him. "What, is there some new rules regarding holiday shrubs? ...shouldn't Dom or DeWitt be enforcing that sort of thing?"

"India's allergic to pine," she answers dryly. "I haven't checked, but I assume there are rules about not triggering allergic reactions in the Actives..."

He sighs a little and steps away from his computers, moving across the room like he feels the need to place himself between her and the tree. "Iiii'll make sure her treatments are quick. In and out, limited exposure."

"She was up here for two minutes, Topher. Any longer and it could have been serious." She can't imagine what his attachment to the stupid thing is, unless now he's just arguing to keep it to annoy her. Topher narrows his eyes a little, squinting at her with an expression she can't even begin to parse.

"Come on, Saunders, where's your Christmas spirit?"

"Misplaced with my sense of humor, I'm sure. Get rid of it."

He doesn't quite pout, but his expression flickers through something similar enough, like a sulky child. "Is India really that bothered by it? Give her a good dose of antihistamines before and after her treatments, she won't even notice!" He pauses a moment, shrugs, and then swing back towards his computer. "Or you could always tell DeWitt and see what she says..."

Ordinarily, Claire would do just that, but the easy confidence of that comment rankles something. The assumption that she wouldn't go to DeWitt, or the certainty she'd take Topher's side if she did... She stands there eyeing him for a moment longer, and then turns and walks out of his office, back down to her own. Topher's already turned his attention back to his work by the time she does, and doesn't even seem to notice her leaving.

That night, at three AM, there is a small, incredibly localized fire in Topher's office, something to do with Christmas lights or spontaneous combustion or God knows what. Topher's asleep when it happens; the janitorial staff has it out in minutes, and DeWitt makes it clear that Topher's not to make any further additions to his office d├ęcor without running it by her.

When Topher wakes up and finds out what happened to his tree, he stands at his window for what must be half an hour, glowering in the direction of Claire's office until she happens to pass where she can see him. She catches his eye, raises her eyebrows, and smiles back at him, saccharine sweet and too innocent to ever be believed.
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February 2011

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