Word Count: 3,558
Spoilers: veeeery vague allusions that span through 2x12-ish
Summary: It's so easy, here, for things to blur. What would have happened if Dominic hadn't been caught in "A Spy in the House of Love"?
Author's Note: I meant to save this for fic day at the end of the week over at dewitt_dominic, but then, er, I spent my whole day sitting in my pjs in front of my computer writing it, and now that it's after ten at night, I yearn for the sense of I Didn't Totally Waste My Day that only comes alongside posting fic! I randomly thought of this notion yesterday, and then someone posted the very same prompt over at dewitt_dominic, and I'm not about to fight destiny when it's that blatant! Especially if it makes my brain all tingly, and gives me an excuse to rewatch scenes from A Spy in the House of Love.
I AM GOING TO GO DO SCHOOLTYPE READ-Y THINGS NOW, I SWEAR.
Title is from "Sinai" by the Ghost Bees, and isn't really all that relevant. Just convenient, because I am on a total Ghost Bees kick right now. Also, they are creepy, sort of like this story. (I dunno! It creeped me out to write a little!)
Avoiding the knife and the guilt of a wound
-Ghost Bees, 'Sinai'
“You’re a doll. A broken doll who’s gone off mission before. And when DeWitt asks me to explain myself—”
“You tell her I went off mission again.”
“And I had no choice but to kill you.”
“And Topher and Ivy?”
“Collateral damage. I’d say I’m covered.”
-A Spy in the House of Love
She returns on Monday morning, well rested and a bit more relaxed. There is, yes, the tinge of guilt, of weakness (pathetic, self-deluding souls) but she’s gotten good at paying very little mind to that. She steps inside, thinking with a wry smile of her mobile phone abandoned in the depths of the sea, and finds Mr. Dominic waiting for her in the lobby of the building. It’s irregular. She can’t remember a time he hasn’t greeted her in her office.
Something is wrong.
“Ma’am,” he says, unfolding his arms, taking a few steps closer. He looks tired, she realizes. He hasn’t shaved.
She moves near enough to him that she can speak quietly. Needless to say, it wouldn’t do to pique the interest of the people around them. “What happened, Mr. Dominic?”
“While you were gone—” He pauses. Swallows. It’s unnerving to see him so lacking in composure. “There was an incident.”
Topher, Ivy, and Echo.
She sits at her desk, staring down fixedly at its surface. He stands a few feet away and relates the details to her in even, heavy tones. His hands are behind his back, like a soldier at attention.
A chip found in the chair. Altered imprints sent out by someone in the House. Echo was imprinted by Topher as a sort of spy-catcher, against Dominic’s instructions. During a routine interrogation of all the most likely suspects, the news came in that Sierra had identified Ivy as the mole. In finding out, Echo changed – became instantly dead-set upon eliminating the enemy. Something from a prior imprint triggered, perhaps. An error in the program design. Whatever it was, it had turned her coldly murderous in seconds. Illogical, unreachable.
“I tried to subdue her as best I could,” Mr. Dominic says. “But she got ahold of my gun, and she took Ivy out. Topher was trying to protect her. Got caught in the crossfire. In the end, I wasn’t left any choice but to—”
“No,” Adelle says. “No, of course you weren’t.”
Already, there’s no sign of the chaos that took place here: the windows have been replaced, the glass cleared away. She thinks back to a few months before. The company jet requisitioned to Arizona without her permission. As always, just looking out for your best interests.
“Ma’am.” His voice softens. “Ms. DeWitt. If there had been any other way—”
“I suppose from here on out we’ll be spared the trouble of our weekly argument over whether to send Echo to the Attic.” She looks up at him at last. “My, whatever will we talk about now. Television? I hope we won’t be forced to resort to the weather.”
She does not know quite what to do with that. She wonders whether he hesitated. She rather thinks not. When push comes to shove, he does what needs doing and does not flinch. They’re alike in that way. (Or are they? If she had listened—if Echo had been put in the Attic—)
“Ivy was NSA,” she says, looking down again at her desk.
“Lucky for her that Echo snapped, then. A far more pleasant alternative to what would have befallen a traitor.”
There is, she notes, a spot of blood on the carpet, about the size of a quarter. The cleaning crew (miracle workers that they undoubtedly are) must have missed it. How funny, not to know for certain whose it is.
“Were you hurt?” she asks. Her voice sounds very loud in her ears.
“In the fight with Echo. Were you hurt?”
“Scratched up a little,” he replies. He brings a hand to his neck and rubs at it absently. It’s a strange gesture, coming from him. Not nearly contained enough. It reminds her – suddenly, strikingly – of Topher. (Topher, so very human, with his fidgets and twitches and stammers and inappropriately timed laughing fits. His juice boxes.) “Nothing too bad.”
She wonders what it would have done to her, to come back this morning and be greeted by Boyd Langton instead. To learn Laurence Dominic had been killed. Her mind flutters over what would have been their last conversation: his wry little smile, her quip about cake. Decidedly lacking in poetry, as far as last exchanges go. There is an ugly moment’s fierce, plain relief. She thinks of Echo’s big brown eyes, her dancelike drifting walk. She thinks of Caroline. Caroline, who ought to have been free in three years.
“Well, thank God for small mercies,” she says with all the briskness she can summon. “Go home, Mr. Dominic. Get some rest. Mr. Langton shall oversee your duties today.”
She wonders whether he will fight her on it. Admitting to something as human as exhaustion seems unlike him.
“Thank you, ma’am,” he says, surprising her.
“Of course,” she murmurs.
She waits until the door is closed behind him. She buries her face in her hands.
Lying to her’s easier than he’d expected. He’s been doing it steadily for the past three years, sure, but that’s different. The way he sees it is, he does the job he’s hired to do. Doesn’t matter who he’s working for. He’s head of security, plain and simple. He makes sure this House doesn’t get found. He can’t remember the last time he spoke right to her and didn’t tell some version of the truth. It had helped, maybe, to have her looking down at the desk instead of up at him.
He steps into his dark apartment. He’ll take a shower, eat something, get some sleep. He turns on the TV for the noise. He tosses his jacket on the couch. Wrinkles don’t exactly seem like a big scary priority at the moment. On his way down the hall toward the bathroom, he loosens his tie. He can’t turn the memory off, and finally stops trying. He thinks of Echo, or whoever the hell she was programmed to be. Was she even given a name that time around? If she was, he can’t remember it. It was all down to one misstep, one stumble. She would have had him otherwise. She was disoriented for a couple seconds, and he grabbed his gun, and he shot her. Just like that, no hesitation. Blood on the wall behind her, a few shades darker than the paint. When Ivy screamed, he turned around. Took her out. There’s no way she even had time to realize what was happening.
Topher, he went for last. It’s the only one he really felt. Topher, crouched behind the couch, staring down at Ivy with his mouth a perfect disbelieving circle. This expression of shock so cliché it was almost funny. Topher, with his trampoline and his mini-fridge, with his whole house full of handy dandy human-shaped playthings.
A good thing, he’d decided. Sure, the kid’s got his own weird charisma (DeWitt’s always liked him; he’s always been able to tell), but a good thing for the world, not to have this particular mind in it.
“Man,” Topher gibbered, staring up at him with big wide eyes, falling back and starting to scramble away, “man, man, man, what are you doing?”
He closes his eyes, chokes back the bile that threatens to rise in his throat.
‘The job,’ he thinks he would have answered, if there’d been any Topher left to hear him.
They need to start looking for a new programmer. Losing both Topher and Ivy hits the House hard. They’ve got the existing imprints at their disposal, and a couple of technicians with enough savvy to find their way around the lab, but that’s it. As of right now, it’s only repeat customers who are getting what they want, or anything at all.
“He’s irreplaceable,” DeWitt says bluntly. They’re standing in the empty lab, having just seen Foxtrot out and sent the technicians off for lunch. “There’s no chance we’ll find another individual with his skills.”
“We’ll do the best we can. Who knows? Somebody out there might surprise us.”
Privately, he doubts it. He feels good about doubting it. The more this place’s progress is hindered, the better. He wishes losing Topher was enough to make the whole operation burn out. (Never mind that it’d be next to nothing, on the big scale. That this is just a puzzle piece.) He imagines the Dollhouse empty, abandoned, its captives scattered back out into the world. He wonders what DeWitt would do instead of this.
“I know you disliked him,” she says now, fiddling gracefully with an action figure she’s picked up from his desk. It’s one of the robots from Battlestar Galactica. He knows because once, he didn’t know, which resulted in Topher enlightening him. A lot. Loudly. Indignantly.
“I didn’t dislike him,” he protests automatically. She looks up at him, arching an eyebrow. “Okay,” he acquiesces, “I disliked him. But I didn’t want that for him.”
(‘Man. Man, man, man, what are you doing?’)
“You’re a terrifically compassionate soul, Mr. Dominic, did you know that?” she deadpans.
He doesn’t answer. She continues her little examination of the workspace. She pulls a drawer open, and her expression softens.
“Drawer of inappropriate starches,” she replies. A bittersweet smile plays at her mouth. For just a second, her eyes turn bright, and the composure of her expression wavers. He realizes he has no goddamn idea what to do if she cries. No need to worry, it turns out. She recovers herself quickly. She pushes the drawer shut and moves along. He follows a few feet behind her.
Langton corners him in the parking garage when he’s on his way out for the night. His eyes are full of sorrow.
“You killed her.” It’s impractical, Dominic thinks, for anyone to be that tall.
“I stopped her,” he corrects without missing a beat, glowering up at him. “I didn’t have any choice. You think I would have done it if I had? Topher and Ivy are dead because of her. So maybe it’s time for you to stop mourning your little girl wonder.”
“You have no idea what you’ve cost us.”
“The Dollhouse’s number one in-demand brainwashable piece of ass? Big loss for humanity.”
“She was more than that,” Langton protests, his voice thick with emotion.
“Yeah, I guess she was. She was a threat. A threat to this House, a threat to everyone in it. A threat to Rossum.”
For a long time, Langton stares at him in silence. Dominic stares right back.
“I think one day,” he says at last, “you’ll regret what you’ve done.”
“We’ll see,” Dominic retorts, brushing past him.
“Yes,” Langton says – gently, almost. “We will.”
“Where’s Topher?” Sierra asks a few evenings later, catching him on his way up to DeWitt’s office.
“He’s gone,” he answers bluntly, quickening his pace. “He’s not coming back.”
“That’s too bad,” she responds, drifting along after him. “I like my treatments.”
“Did Echo go with him?”
He only pauses for a couple seconds. “Yeah.”
“She’ll be back soon,” Sierra says knowingly. “We were going to have breakfast together. We always have breakfast together. And sometimes we swim.”
“That’s great for you.”
“Echo’s my friend.”
“Ms. DeWitt’s your friend. Lately, she looks sad. Maybe,” Sierra theorizes, “you should have breakfast together.”
He slides his keycard at the elevator and steps inside.
“Victor’s my friend, too,” Sierra continues. “He was gone, but he’s back now. Echo will come back too.”
He doesn’t bother replying. The elevator doors shut with a cheery ding! Sierra waves, and keeps on smiling that slow dreamy smile.
He goes into DeWitt’s office to say goodnight. It’s dim, all lamplight and shadows. She sits on the sofa, a drink in her hand. She doesn’t look over at him, doesn’t make any move to show she’s even aware of his presence.
“I should have been here,” she says flatly, finally.
When he first started, he’d found her amoral, scarily so. The tea; the pretty, murmured monologues about blank slates and true connections and the purest of souls. It all seemed like an intricate act, frightening in its perfection. It hadn’t taken him long to reevaluate his stance. She means it, he knows. She means all of it.
She feels responsible for this.
“It’s not your fault,” he says. (Doesn’t allow himself to contemplate the profound truth of that statement.) “You had to go.”
“If I had been here, I could have prevented it. I would have handled things differently. Topher wouldn’t have dared to imprint Echo without my say-so. He never had any sense of deference to you.”
“You can’t change what happened.”
“Well, I bloody fucking well wish I could.” She lets out a dark laugh. He wonders, suddenly, how many drinks she polished off before the one she’s holding now. “Do you know where I was?”
“Ah, yes, wouldn’t that have been admirable.”
“I was at home,” she interrupts. “I was tired. And frustrated. And lonely. I felt the need for a bit of time off. Some company. Someone to talk to.” Every word has hard, glinting edges.
“Because of me, Topher and Ivy are dead. And Echo’s blood will always be on your hands. Because I wanted a pleasant weekend at home with a handsome man.”
His stomach gives a stupid, untimely lurch at that. It’s not his place to care.
“It was weak,” she continues steadily, “and it was foolish and now I’m being punished accordingly. When I took this job, I understood that it meant making certain sacrifices. No family. No outside interests. All very well – I believed in the work we were doing. The peculiar philanthropy of it. And the salary certainly didn’t hurt. What a grand opportunity to wear a lot of very nice shoes.
“I slipped. I grew selfish and indulgent. Because of it, this House will never recover. The wrath of Rossum will no doubt rain down on us soon. Allowing a spy to infiltrate our ranks, with no one the wiser ‘til now. Topher Brink is dead. Caroline is dead. I made her a promise. I make promises to all of them—”
“Call me by my first name,” she orders scathingly. “All this ridiculous ceremony. When has it ever helped anything.”
He sits down next to her. “Adelle.”
“Laurence,” she mimics, scornfully drawing out the syllables. She sets her drink down on the coffeetable: the sound of it rings through the room.
“I understand how you’re feeling. But we can’t afford to lose it right now.”
She looks at him, tilting her head. “How infinitely sensible you are.”
She reaches over, briefly, to touch his face. He freezes. Then she pulls her hand away, her fingers ghosting across his lips as she does it. He’s struck by a feeling, clean and practical and hollow, that comes alongside the absence of her fingertips. She considers him with a dark, slight smile. He can’t make out the green of her eyes, even this close. Too many shadows. She leans in, then, and kisses his cheek. The action is prim and chaste. Mocking. For a second, they’re frozen there: him very still, her with her lips against his cheek. Then her mouth drifts down – across his jaw, over to his neck. Her breath is hot; he inhales jaggedly. She laughs against his pulse. Her hands stay demurely folded in her lap.
“What was it like?” she murmurs in his ear. “To look into her eyes and know that, underneath the fury, there was nothing more than a helpless child, and still to put a bullet in her skull?”
“Easy,” he says hoarsely, without thinking first.
She pulls back. Her eyes are dark, heavy. He can’t tell whether it’s with despair or desire. Some combination of the two. It’s so easy, here, for things to blur. “Was it?”
For the first time, he touches her. He does it carefully, and doesn’t know why. Not like the moment calls for it. But he does: brushes his knuckles across her cheek, a slow tentative reverent motion that he can’t justify. It reminds him, sharply, of Langton standing over Echo in the chair, pressing his hand over her limp fragile fingers.
“I had something to protect,” he says.
Adelle looks at him, taking his words in. He wonders what she thinks he means.
Then she kisses him hard, with less grace than he would have expected; she tastes like scotch, and snares his bottom lip fleetingly between her teeth. Her perfume is achingly familiar, overwhelming this close. Her hair brushes his face. Now that the distance has been breached between them, God, he wants her closer. He puts his hands on her hips and pulls her to him; she clambers to fit herself there, one knee on either side of his legs, skirt riding inelegantly up.
“If you had died,” she breathes, the words sighing into one another, and doesn’t finish the sentence. With trembling, efficient hands she pushes off his jacket and unknots his tie, sets mercilessly to work on the buttons of his shirt. He shuts his eyes and kisses her and kisses her, tangling his hands in her hair.
She brings him home with her a few evenings later. This is profoundly unwise, what they’re doing, but their world is in shambles around them already and so at the moment she doesn’t much care. Might as well reap the benefits of devastation and chaos before order is regained. (And order will be regained, even if perhaps success is not.) She is quite used to his protestations, his wise suggestions. He does not offer any of them now – no warning about a lack of professionalism. She’s grateful. Of course, perhaps it is not quite a surprise. He’s always been so very good at doing what she requires of him.
She wonders whether it is merely that, now. She doesn’t think so. There’s something in the way he looks at her, the way he touches her, that makes it seem more like indulgence than obedience. Thank God for that. She doesn’t know how much lower she can bear to sink.
They walk through her dark empty lovely house, their footsteps matched as they echo on the floor. He makes no polite, admiring remarks about it. She’s glad. In honesty, she doesn’t take much pride in this place. She’s not here nearly enough for it to feel like hers.
She means to undress on her own, but he comes up behind her and helps with the zipper of her dress. His hands are cool on her back: her own awareness of them dizzies her. To think they’ve allowed themselves to fall this far, to think that this is the man who has stood beside her for the past three years and never even used her first name, to think – or not (she amends, abandoning thought as they sink, kissing, onto the bed) to think.
You are perfection, he does not say. If I could make a woman, I’d make you, he does not say. But he looks right into her eyes, like he’s trying to burn the memory of her into him.
There’s no melancholy, soul-searching pillow talk afterward. That goes without saying. It’s enough to have a body next to hers. And anyhow, she doesn’t much like spilling out the depths of her soul if she can help it. They lie tangled in her sheets but not in each other. She supposes over the years they’ve fallen into the habit of maintaining careful distance. A tricky thing to shake.
“I tossed my phone into the ocean,” she says, to quell the silence. There’s something too vulnerable that she feels inclined to shatter: quiet and nakedness, the sound of breathing and of waves. “Flung it right over the balcony and into the water. That’s why none of you could reach me.”
(Could be very urgent, or it could be Topher calling to tell me his sweater’s itchy.)
His mouth curves in a smirk. “That’s one way to take care of the problem.”
It’s an aspect of him she’s always enjoyed – his wryness, his blunt unrelenting sarcasm – so she leans in (there is no real reason why she shouldn’t) and kisses the quirked corner of his mouth. After a moment, he brings an arm over and rests a hand on her bare back.
“It was magnificently cathartic,” she declares, leaning on one elbow as she looks at him. “You should try it sometime.”
He traces lazy circles onto her skin. She likes the way he is looking at her right now; the way he looks draped in the bluish lack of light, in her bed. “Noted.”
“Well, then,” she says, not quite knowing why, “there’s my secret. Now tell me one of yours.”