Pairing: Adelle DeWitt/Laurence Dominic
Spoilers: 1x07 - "Echoes"
Word Count: 1,557
Summary: In the wake of 1x07, Adelle ponders things even more incomprehensible than lentils.
Author's Note: OH, YOU KNOW I HAD TO GO THERE. I'd like to thank the combined forces of a) caffeine (too much, to be precise), b) Joss Whedon's unstoppable tendency to feature episodes where everyone acts uninhibited and HILARIOUS, and c) Adelle DeWitt, my exquisite morally dubious lady hero, ♥ from here to ETERNITY.
Were she to be asked (though she will not; she’s trained everyone she associates with to know better), Adelle might answer that she understands it. Has felt it – feels it – but that part she wouldn’t say. That, she seldom even admits to herself. It is enough that she understands the Dollhouse: not for its progress, not for the greater vision or the integral piece of the puzzle it serves as for her employers. She is staunchly confident there; she believes in what she is helping to do. That it must be done.
But what the Dollhouse means about people, that someone could pay millions in that hope of finally finding – well, whatever it is we look for, that wholeness, that doneness. She understands it.
She could never do it, of course. She is too close to the organization, and too proud besides. Perhaps it is England in her bones that makes her so, a whole history of cloudy days and stiff upper lips. No hard r’s. She excels at being austere and knows it, and surely it is her home (home – the word seems so inherently sentimental; something in her balks at it; instinct demands she lift a wry eyebrow) – her home, still in her even here, that has helped to make her this way. It might seem to the naïve, blessedly normal bystander that what they do here is grotesque and surreal, science fiction to the core, but really, it is not so unnatural as that – perhaps it’s precisely the opposite. We are all shaped just like this, she thinks now, still not quite as guarded as she ought to be, and so horribly tired besides. All of us molded from different pieces.
For the record, she’s not unacquainted with loneliness. She lives alone, sometimes thinks she would like to get a cat but can never bring herself to do it in the end. Even that seems somehow pathetic. An admission of weakness, and she doesn’t care to admit anything. Her life is this work, this place, and she knows very well she’s good at what she does. She is the face of the fantasy, the guardian at the gate, and she pulls people into this world with unwavering briskness, with charm that never relaxes quite enough to become friendliness. It is her role to communicate that this is possible – and what’s more, that they deserve it, that they’ve earned it.
More often than not, their clients are brilliant, and lonely, empty in that brilliance. Most engagements are about sex, of course, but she doesn’t think she could fault anyone for that. Really, sex is the simplest solution, the most basic means of doing away with solitude. Pretending to, at least. She remembers one client: a woman, about her age. Pristinely dressed, exuding efficiency in the tilt of her head, in the way she crossed her ankles sitting down. The resemblance had been undeniable; it still catches up to her sometimes, in the (rare) moments when she lets her guard down a bit. This client, this woman had said that she had chosen ambition over quainter things (a family, true love, all the silly girlish standards) and she was beginning to feel the sting of it. She looked at Adelle with such certainty, such sly and quiet familiarity, an unspoken ‘You know what I mean, I’m sure.’ Adelle can still remember the biting desire to turn her away, to deny her an engagement altogether. (A romantic weekend in Paris, a handsome man for a husband; erudite, polished, an attentive lover; “I want him to look at me—” God, it infuriates her that she remembers it so well even now, down to the sound of her voice, “—like he knows how lucky he is. Like he still can’t believe it sometimes, that he’s so lucky, and can’t quite shake the feeling that one morning he’ll wake up and I’ll be gone.”) Adelle had, of course, regained her composure without betraying for a moment that she’d lost it. They had, of course, fulfilled the woman’s requirements.
She could never do that – crack open her own heart, be bold enough to search it, to know it, to say, without shame, ‘This, this is what would make me whole. This is what I want.’
She almost envies them, the clients. How wretchedly weak, how completely glorious to sink so low; to scratch the itch, fill the emptiness.
Here she is, meanwhile, in bed alone (but that goes without saying), the silk of her sheets elusive and cold against her legs. Dwelling is utterly futile, but shame still burns white hot in her. She’s fairly certain she actually ate something called a Cheez-It. And the things she said. God, it’s a blessing and a curse that she had been with Topher, of all people – a blessing because, for all his talk, he knows his place, and therefore knows better than to repeat anything that might jeopardize his position; a curse because Topher under the influence of drugs is uncannily similar to Topher in his normal state, trousers or no trousers, and she would have far preferred to share the embarrassment with someone who would have actually felt it.
She thinks of Mr. Dominic, and takes that back.
In a way, it feels as though it’s still happening, the encounter earlier in her office. The awkwardness stifling and electric, igniting the air, her mind, her skin. She acutely remembers the faint, unimportant brush of their fingers as she handed him his gun back. It had been foolish to react so strongly; it’s foolish to keep thinking of it now, hours after it happened. She still doesn’t know why it had flustered her like that just to be in his presence. And all right, yes, at one point, she had been on the verge of something like a confession to Topher (it blurs in her head now; she can’t remember what she meant to say, only a distinct, steady desire to have said it, to hear it aloud, to let out just enough of that feeling that it would lessen, cease to swell inside her), but then they’d begun discussing what the best shade of blue was and the thought got left behind. She had argued vehemently in favor of cerulean.
How would she have phrased the feeling, if she had gotten ‘round to saying it? She knows Laurence Dominic is a joke to Topher – a glorified lackey, a lapdog of hers. No doubt it’s best that she hadn’t said anything. She gets the unsettling sense that she would have argued in Mr. Dominic’s favor most emphatically.
She wonders whether he thought about her. Whether he thinks about her.
It would be a lie to claim she doesn’t think of him sometimes. Fortunately, she has no qualms about lying.
It’s inevitable, or at least she likes to console herself by thinking so. She spends more time with him than anyone. He is always there, every bit as poised and unfeeling as she is; he is respectful but never obsequious, has practically made walking beside her an art form. Sometimes she catches herself marking the matched rhythm of their footsteps. He’s never once slipped in calling her Ms. DeWitt or ma’am; on occasion, she rather wishes he would. She knows he won’t. He’s good at this like she is.
Perhaps that’s the source of the unspoken camaraderie between them, if you could be generous enough to call it that. Both of them know what is required of them, know this place, and both of them do not flinch. She thinks of Boyd Langton, of Dr. Saunders: they are able workers, of course, and the Dollhouse is lucky to have them, but the two of them wear their sorrow so plainly. It darkens their eyes, glints sometimes in the words they speak. They do this and do it well, but they cannot bring themselves to believe in it. Sometimes, in some deep ignored recess of her, she feels a little less than human standing beside them, and hates it.
Mr. Dominic understands the little sacrifices, the moral ambiguities. He shuts himself off, becomes made only of what he needs to be in order to get the job done. She’s no stranger to such methods herself. It could be mistaken for attraction, this kind of sameness.
(And never mind if she had contemplated, lying on the floor talking nonsense with the carpet rough and the fabric of her clothing so impossibly thin, the possibility of his mouth against her neck, of his hands on her, of his uncanny knack to do what she tells him to so very well—of how she would go about loosening his tie; she would take off his shirt sparing no thought for the well-being of the buttons, she would not kiss him delicately, she would come apart into messy imperfections, bare skin and sweat, matching rhythms, and he would need it all just as badly as she did, as she does—)
Their conduct is, of course, always strictly professional. There is no reason in the world for it to be anything else.
Perhaps she’ll apologize tomorrow morning for telling him not to call her ma’am. He’s attentive enough that she fears he will stop doing it altogether, otherwise. She believes she might need him to do it.