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moonlettuce organized the Cheeseman Ficathon. I was assigned doyle_sb4, who requested Holden Webster, therapy, and no sex.

Title: Psychology of Self
Author: voleuse
Fandoms: BtVS/Angel/Firefly
Character: Holden Webster (kind of)
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: Cheese is power.
Notes: Contains spoilers for Ats: Shells and Firefly: The Message, but surprisingly, none for "Conversations With Dead People." Go figure.



He should have paid more attention in Neuropharmacology, because it all came back to bite him in the ass during the last week of Behavioral Endocrinology. It's all basic knowledge, course treatment, but all he can remember right now is Freud, and who knows what the professor will make of that.

He had never really planned on doing a concentration on pharmaceuticals, but it's difficult to argue with an adviser who prefaces conversations with, "Your records indicate you might excel in my field." Nobody works reverse psychology better than those who earned doctoral degrees in it.

Holden wants a little bit of that power for himself. God knows he's never had control of his life before.

Growing up in Sunnydale will make you crave power.

It's the title of his proposed thesis.

If he ever graduates, which strongly depends on passing Endocrinology at this point.

So, he wanders around the library for a while (he's intimately familiar with five particular rows of shelves), and ends up sitting, cross-legged, in front of a row of outdated chemistry textbooks.

Eventually, he falls asleep, and like anybody else, he dreams.

*


Holden's the only person in the hallway, except for himself. He looks forward, and back, and there is only darkness, and his mirror image.

It's laughing at him, and he's suddenly in front of himself, and everything is wrong. He raises his hands, watches his hands being raised, and reaches forward. Touches fingertips.

The mirror shatters.


*


He's drifting, floating on an inner tube in the middle of the ocean, or maybe somewhere close to the Crab Nebula (he can't tell from this close). He's alone, and he's hungry, but all he has is a tray, three slices of rye, and a packet of not-quite-Kraft American cheese slices.

His fingers are slippery from the salt (the cold) and it's hard to open the stupid plastic wrapper. He's afraid he'll drop the packet, and the cheese will fall, fall, fall.

It feels like his stomach is merging with his other organs, melting to become one giant pit of neediness, and Holden finally gives up. Tears open the packet with his teeth, and salivates at the cheese-like goodness that he discovers.

Individually wrapped.

It's amazing how many profanities he invents at that moment.

Hours later, he manages to unpeel a clear, plastic wrapper, and he crows in triumph. Ducks his head to take a bite.

Finds nothing but air.

The wrapper is empty. The cheese is gone.

He looks down, looks up, looks around.

In front of him is a man, and he has all the cheese. All of it, draped over his arms like a damn mink coat.

"Hey!" His throat feels hoarse, from the salt (or possibly the vacuum). "I need that cheese."

"The cheese is not for you," the man opines.

"Cheese is for everyone," Holden protests. "I need to make a sandwich."

The man wags his head and begins to sink.

"Wait!" He scrambles at the edge of his inner tube, but it's too late.

The cheese is gone.

*


The mirror is crumbling slowly to powder at his feet, and his hands are bleeding. Ground glass, gnawing at his skin until it's gone, and he's nothing but ashes to ashes.

It hurts, to say the least.

He can't make it stop. He doesn't know how.


*


Riding through the Crab Nebula is remarkably like riding on Bigfoot Rapids at Knott's Berry Farm, Holden thinks, except there's less water (or is there?) and no promise of funnel cake at the end.

A sun catches his attention, and it grows brighter, larger, until he has to clench his eyes shut to stay the pain.

When he opens them, the sun is fluorescent lighting, and he's being dissected by a guy his own age.

Holden screams, like any self-respecting alive person would scream, and knocks the scalpel from the hand of the doctor (he presumes).

Launches himself at the man, and in his haze vows pain for pain.

It's a few minutes' worth of struggle before he realizes he's naked.

Then he's just embarrassed.

*


His skin feels like paper, without the blood underneath it.

He feels like he'll live forever, dry as the pyramids and just as arcane. He feels like the slightest breeze will make him float.

He is, though. Floating, in his own blood, like an ocean.


*


He flings himself back, off the doctor, and finds himself sprawled on the floor of a different lab. The light is brighter, the ceiling is higher, but he's just as naked.

There's a...pain. A stich in his ribs, and when he examines himself, he finds actual stitches.

Peels them out, pries the skin away and finds that his heart is gone.

His heart is gone, and instead there's--

A sandwich?

"Thank God." He takes a nibble, then a bite. "I'm starving."

But there's no cheese.

In the corner of his eye, there's a flicker, and a slide of blue, and then he sees the bald man again.

"You!"

The man winks. "Closer." He twitches the lapel of his coat, and the familiar yellow-orange flashes for a moment.

"Can't I," Holden reaches out, "can't I have a slice?"

The man shakes his head, nary a murmur on his lips. He's just--

Gone.

*


He's beginning to enjoy the feeling of weightlessness when he feels a stir in his blood. (It may be pooled about his feet like a pond, but it's still a part of him.) He opens his eyes, and sees a little blond girl. She looks familiar, in a sort of not way.

"I'm sorry," she says.

"For what?"

She purses her lips, and huffs and puffs, and blows poor Holden away.


*


"I'm sorry, you're going to have to leave, sir."

Holden wakes, and sees a pair of sturdy-looking penny loafers. Looks up, and there's one of the ladies from the circulation desk, and he must be...

"The library is closing, sir."

"Right." He clears his throat. "Sorry. I must have fallen asleep."

She grins sympathetically, and offers him a hand up. "Happens a lot, during the last couple of weeks of the quarter."

"Yeah." He straightens, stretches, and smiles. "Too much studying."

She looks at the books spread over the floor. "You're a psychology major?"

"Yup." He picks up the books, shelves them carefully.

"Are you going to be a psychiatrist?"

He laughs. "I probably need more therapy than my patients would."

She takes an armful of books from him. "All shrinks do." Escorts him to the exit, and bids him farewell.

*


Holden goes back to sleep when he gets back to his dorm room, but he doesn't dream again.


###

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