My body is a cage that keeps me from dancing with the one I love.
-The Arcade Fire
She takes them all out without much trouble: the last, though, she doesn’t see until it’s too late. He is vacant-eyed and sixteen at the most, with bad skin and crooked teeth. He knocks her down and her gun flies from her hand; she is disoriented, momentarily, as her head collides with the wall of the abandoned building behind her. He looms over her, monstrous in his utter blankness, blocking the weary sun. She thinks, in a way too scattered and shapeless to be quite poignant, of many things all at once: her mother’s hands, the scent of her father’s pipe tobacco, young and tipsy on champagne and giggling like mad with Margaret, Roger’s voice adoring as he calls her “Katherine,” Caroline with dirty hair and sullen eyes, stubbornly refusing tea, Topher waving his hands, Mr. Dominic catching her eye from across the House and coming to stand beside her, brisk as ever but with the slightest smile.
Then, in a sudden explosion of sound and red, the boy falls in an undignified heap before her. His blood spatters, warm, over her face.
“Ma’am,” Mr. Dominic says, gun in hand, unshaven and exhausted-looking. She can’t recall a time she’s ever been more pleased to see him. His timing really is impeccable.
“Mr. Dominic,” she responds curtly. He offers his hand. She takes it, and he pulls her up.
“Sorry,” he says, “about the blood.”
“Yes, well, let’s not lament what we can’t change. Hardly my favourite outfit, anyhow.” She does not feel quite like herself in jeans and sweatshirts, old trainers that leave her feet flat on the ground. She still hasn’t decided whether it’s liberating or humiliating.
He chuckles – a quick, dark laugh.
“Thank you very much for bothering to show up, by the way.”
“Hey, don’t mention it, Ms. DeWitt. As your right hand man, your safety is my first and foremost priority.”
She cannot tell whether he’s mocking her or something else – himself, perhaps. The whole world around them, perhaps, and what it has become.
“Very clever. Feeling sentimental, are we, Mr. Dominic? Missing the good old days?”
“I’d say I’m pretty nostalgic for the days of old, yeah.”
She casts a glance at him as they stride through the wreckage, draped in weak reluctant sunshine. It’s hard to tell whether he’s the one keeping up with her or vice versa. She supposes they’ve always had this odd unrelenting compatibility, in spite of everything.
“You’re not the only one,” she says.
They take the private jet to Tucson. Adelle is quite intent upon never allowing Caroline Farrell to trouble her again; for the duration of the flight, then, she does not discuss strategy with Mr. Dominic or sit about worriedly twiddling her thumbs. That would attribute the girl with a formidability, an importance that Adelle refuses to award her. They are on their way to mend this problem once and for all: it will be fixed, and that will be that.
She brings a book with her. It’s a lovely thing, an early edition volume of Katherine Mansfield stories given to her by Mr. Dominic last Christmas. He has an exceptional knack, she has found, for perfect gifts, equal parts elegant and impersonal. She knows the book was intended to be valued more for its rarity than its content, but she has always meant to read it. Needless to say, it’s been a bit of a challenge to find the time. Now seems as good an opportunity as any, and she does like the notion of him bearing witness to her reading it. She’d like to express her appreciation for what he does. This seems a fine way to do so. They aren’t exactly in the habit of talking about their feelings.
An hour or so passes. She is in the middle of “Bliss” when he clears his throat and says, “I’m glad you like it.”
She looks up at him.
“The book,” he adds, unnecessarily.
She supposes he’s bored, the poor man. He’s so good at silent stoicism that she’s begun to suppose it is in fact his preferred mode of existence. Still, when she thinks about it, he’s quite charming in conversation. Suddenly all the silence seems a terrible waste.
“Very much,” she says, glancing down at her page number and then shutting the book, resting it in her lap. “It was a lovely gift, Mr. Dominic, thank you.”
“Of course,” he says with a nod. He always seems at attention; she can’t help but like that. “I wasn’t familiar with the author, but from what I could tell, it seemed suited to you.”
“A perfect call,” Adelle says, inspiring a faint smile on his part. “I haven’t read her in years. But I’ve always liked her. I studied literature for awhile at university back in England, before I was swayed away by more scientific pursuits.”
“I went to England for a few weeks after I got out of college,” he says, his voice a little warmer than she’s accustomed to hearing it; they don’t often discuss things that don’t relate to work. He waits a moment, then adds, dryly, “It rained.”
She can’t help smiling. “It does tend to do that.”
When they drift back into quiet, she opens the book again. He stares forward, just like the other two members of the security team they’ve brought along, but all the same she can’t shake the sense that he’s looking at her. It is, she supposes, just a very acute awareness of his presence. She uncrosses her legs, then crosses them again; brushes her hair back to reveal her neck. (All to be blamed, of course, on the fact that it’s rather uncomfortable business, sitting down for so long.) She resumes her reading. But now – ardently! ardently! The word ached in her ardent body! Was this what that feeling of bliss had been leading up to?
‘Take the stairs,’ she told him once, so this time he makes sure to use the elevator. He’s still shaky on his legs: it makes him feel pathetic, more animal than human. Doesn’t matter if his hand’s trembling, he’s got a gun in it. He’ll kill her, he thinks. He likes the idea. He can’t think of a better grand finale. Here he is, accidental vigilante, turned good guy not out of honor, not for believing in what’s right, but because the bad guys took him out and what better way to wreak vengeance. Outside is alive with hell sounds.
He bursts through her office doors without knocking or waiting, and wouldn’t you know, Judith’s not there to call him on it. He wonders what happened to Judith, who he’s never really bothered to think about before.
Her office is still perfect, down to the same lamps, to the same fake flowers she keeps in a vase. She’s standing in the middle of it, queenly even now, her back to him. He takes in the sight of her for a second, just a second. Black skirt, silky blouse, blacks and purples and blues: it makes him think of bruises, even though the colors are too bright. He laughs without meaning to, bitterly, because isn’t it just like her, the world’s over but Adelle DeWitt is still dressed for success, sophisticated, standing tall. God forbid she waste away with the rest of them.
At the sound, she turns. Her hair is pulled back but it’s falling out around her face. There are big dark circles underneath her eyes. Not perfect, then, not ice, but he’s mad anyway, doesn’t care, doesn’t soften. Her lips part like she’s going to say something. He imagines some coy, crisp remark, Mr. Dominic. You enjoyed your time off, I hope. You’re looking a bit under the weather, forgive me for saying so. I was hoping your second foray into the Attic might take care of that. It doesn’t come. She stays quiet. Falters. He wants to hit her but he wants (and this has always been his problem) to fuck her, too. When he goes for her, gun in his right hand, she doesn’t flinch. She doesn’t get out of his way, either. This is what makes him realize, somewhere in his mind, that somehow, for some reason, she’s changed. Right now, he doesn’t care.
His hand goes to her throat like something else steers it there. Her skin is cool underneath his fingers, and he can feel the thump of her pulse. It quickens at his touch, the only sign that she’s scared of him. (Shaken, at least. He doesn’t know if he can scare her, not even now.) When he slams her down onto the sofa, she looks up at him like she expects him to kiss her, like she’s mocking him with it. If nothing else, it pulls him back into his own body.
“I regret to inform you, ma’am—” Each word, the first he’s spoken since he got out, is steady and hot with anger, just like his fingertips on her throat, her pulse, “—that we’ve had a security breach.”
“I sent for you, Mr. Dominic,” she says, looking up at him, her arm draped over her head like an old movie damsel’s, the skin of it so white.
They’re in her office, which, for the record, is really nice. Not his suit-nice, but close. He’s never really paid attention before for some reason. The red walls make everything feel nice and warm and calm, which is interesting, ‘cause red is supposed to be all about anger, or sex, or something, but he’s feeling pretty good. Not that sex isn’t good. Sex would be very good. Speaking of things he hasn’t had in awhile. Were they speaking of things he hasn’t had in awhile?
Ms. DeWitt is closing the door, even though Judith doesn’t seem to want them to. Judith is such a drag. “I can have a word in private with my Head of Security, Judith, if you don’t mind,” Ms. DeWitt’s saying, badass as usual. She’s so good at being in charge. Sure, it’s a sick twisted evil organization she’s in charge of, but, like, he couldn’t walk in those heels. He’s just saying. “And unless I am mistakennn—” She kinda drags it out like that, mistakennnn, like three, four n’s at least, it’s funny, “—I am the boss here. Do go be secretarial, will you?”
“But Ms. DeWitt, I was told to—”
Ms. DeWitt slams the door, then lets out a gleeful little laugh as she twists the lock. This is fun. He’s pretty sure he’s having a really good day. Like, stuff at that college science lab earlier was weird, like, take a chill pill everyone, and he’s pretty sure Echo still hates him for trying to kill her, which makes him feel awful because she has these really big eyes and it’s like kicking a puppy and he likes puppies, who doesn’t like puppies, but now that he’s here, he’s good.
“We should hang out more often,” he says, since it’s on his mind.
“I know,” Ms. DeWitt says; it’s weird, kinda, to call her ‘Ms.’ all the time, and why doesn’t he get to use her first name, anyway? Professionalism is stupid. Adelle is a pretty name. “I’ve spent the whole afternoon with Topher, and he didn’t even have any trousers on. Very inappropriate.”
“Topher!” Dominic groans. “I hate that guy!”
“He doesn’t think too highly of you, either, I’ll have you know. Earlier he said some piece of drivel about how you’d never willingly have fun.”
“What? I know how to have fun. I’m having fun right now.”
“Exactly! You’ll be happy to know I defended you most ardently.”
“You did?” For someone who occasionally kills disobedient handlers with sleeper dolls, she’s so nice. Oh well. Hearn was an asshole anyway.
“Well, no,” she admits, frowning. “But I’m quite sure I wanted to. I have no idea why I didn’t say anything. I never say anything, come to think of it! It must be very unhealthy. Oh! Speaking of unhealthy. Have you ever had Twinkies?”
“Uh, yeah. Who hasn’t?”
“I hadn’t.” She looks sad. “I lead a very repressed existence, I think.”
“Me too,” he says, looking at her legs. They’re all there, and leg-shaped. Really exceptional.
“Ooh, ooh, you know what’d be brilliant? If we sneaked down and stole Topher’s trampoline.”
“Brilliant. That’s a good word.”
“Do you think so? I know it’s a bit British. Do you think it’s unfortunate, that I can’t say my R’s the right way?” He never really thought about it before, like, purposefully thought about it, but she’s right. It’s kinda more like … ‘ahhhh.’ He likes that, though. Just between you and him, the British thing, it’s kind of hot. Except take out the ‘kind of,’ and replace it with ‘very.’
“No, no, no.” He figures three no’s should do the trick, to get her to believe him. He does a lot of that, getting her to believe him. “I love how you talk.”
“You do?” she asks, flattered.
“You talk very nicely too,” she replies. He grins. “Though you’re American, obviously.”
“Obviously,” he agrees, nodding.
“However. The trampoline. I really do think that this is something that must be done.”
“Oh yeah,” he says, mostly because she wants to, and that’s what he’s here for. To do her bidding.
“First, of course, we must formulate a plan of action. Topher will be there to guard it, and I suspect he has hidden powers even though he’s such a fidgety little fellow. Not to mention that he’s had a great deal of sugar—”
“Ms. DeWitt?” he interrupts, because okay, all of a sudden this is bothering him.
“Can I tell you something?”
“Anything,” she says. “Anything at all.”
But he knows, even though he’s feelin’ pretty good right now, even though they are going to totally school Topher Brink in the ways of trampoline-having, and maybe even steal some Twinkies just to really rub it in his face (oh, it’ll be good), even though he and Adelle DeWitt are total partners in crime, he can’t do it. It’s like – something just won’t let him. Somewhere in the back of his head, he still knows that the reason he’s here is a secret he’s always gonna have to keep.
“Never mind,” he says.
She shrugs easily. “All right.”
Phew. Crisis averted.
“Judith will be right outside, mind.” She glares at the door, like she can see through it. “Determined to stop us. What a little shrew she is.”
“Let her try,” Dominic growls.
“Oh, Mr. Dominic,” she says, delighted. “Do promise me something, won’t you.”
“Let’s do a great deal more of this in the future,” she orders, drumming her fingers excitedly on his arm. He looks down at them. “I don’t think we spend nearly enough time together. Even though—” Her brow furrows, confused, “—well, I suppose, technically, we spend almost all of our time together. But we ought to steal more trampolines.”
“Absolutely,” he says, liking the idea. “Because, you know, everyone needs hobbies.”
“This is a good hobby,” she mutters with great conviction.
“Especially you and me – we have it really tough.”
“We do!” she agrees emphatically.
“We have to be all serious, all the time, and take care of everything, and everyone thinks, ‘Oh, they’re so boring, they’re no fun’, but it’s like, where would they be without us, huh??”
“Drowning in their own incompetence, I should think,” she says, all savagely triumphant.
“And for the record,” she says, “I don’t think you’re at all boring.”
He feels really guilty, with her looking at him like that. She might be his favourite person in the world. It’s not like that’s saying much, because he doesn’t really like very many people – who’s he gonna like, Topher? – but still. He wishes he didn’t have to lie to her. But it’d be worse, he reminds himself very sternly, if he didn’t.
“Let’s do this,” he says instead, sneering a little, using his badassest of tones. Yeah, that’s right. Head of Security, bitch.
She does a giddy little bounce, then puts on her serious face, the one that could probably kill innocent bystanders from sheer power. (And great hair.) He unlocks the door in one quick movement, and they stride out of the office, epic, determined, nothing standing between them and Topher’s trampoline.
Then Judith shuts down the whole operation pretty fast. Friggin’ Judith.
Even after Alpha’s escaped, they all keep going a long time, running on fear and disbelief. It’s surreal. Dominic’s spent his whole life making sure he could handle something like this, and he’s doing just fine. He feels weird, detached, steady. It’s like the worse things get, the easier it becomes to bark out orders, to take everything in stride. And yeah, there’s a small flicker of something in the back of his head – all that blood – but he ignores it. He’s got a knack for compartmentalizing.
Right now, he’s walking next to DeWitt. Topher’s on her other side, letting out a stream of chatter that’s even more deranged than usual (Dominic can grudgingly forgive him this, considering the circumstances); she’s nodding, offering concise replies, and then she stumbles. It’s not exactly a surprise considering those shoes she wears, but he’s never seen her so much as waver for a second in those things before. She’s crumbling, he thinks, and as soon as he thinks it it strikes him as such a stupid word, a Topher word, that’s the way the cookie crumbles, ha ha ha. When Adelle DeWitt starts losing her poise, you know it’s bad.
She doesn’t fall; he gets there first. He catches her elbow on instinct, steadying her.
“Yes, thank you, Mr. Dominic,” she says, crisp and impatient, like his saving her from a collision with the floor is a minor inconvenience. He moves his hand away. Petty annoyance surges through him, just for a second. He needs to get some rest. They all do.
Things settle into a gradual calm. It’s not peaceful, though. It hangs over the whole House, stale and weak, like an animal caught in a trap once the biting and keening’s done, and all that’s left to do is give in to death. He starts to feel sick in his own skin. He wants a shower and a cup of coffee. He needs to shave.
There’s not much more any of them can do. DeWitt goes up to her office. He thinks of following her, but something stops him. (His hand on her arm, her clipped little admonishment.)
He goes into the kitchen. It’s empty and seems vast that way. His mind darts, inexplicably, to that scene in Jurassic Park with the velociraptors. He can’t remember the last time he watched a movie.
He rummages around until he finds a mug (it’s a friendly sky blue, round and big-handled), then goes searching for tea. He finds a box in the cupboard. It’s that fancy organic shit, of course. Nothing but the best for our programmable humans. It’s called Peppermint Sigh – yeah, yeah – and it’s got a quote from Confucius on the back of the box.
It’s almost four in the morning when he goes up to her office. He pounds his knuckles lightly against the door, a little too soft to hear. Protocol. Then he goes in anyway.
She’s sitting on the sofa, a blanket around her shoulders. Her posture’s perfect, her ankles crossed primly. He’s struck by the random, not-unfamiliar feeling that sneaks up on him sometimes when she’s around and it’s quiet.
When she looks up at him, it’s almost like watching her wake up. “Oh, Mr. Dominic.” She makes a move to stand. “Duty calls.”
“No,” he says, gesturing at her with his free hand to stay down. “I was just—”
Her mouth twists. “Checking up?”
“It’s been hard on all of us.”
“Yes,” she agrees mildly.
They look at one another. It’s strange to see her bone-tired, to see her anything less than flawless. She stares openly up at him, as if she’s too exhausted to register how atypical of them it is, or at least too exhausted to care.
After a long time, he holds the mug out to her. “I thought you might like …”
“Thank you.” She takes it.
“It’s lukewarm and bland. Tried looking for honey or something, but I—”
“You made me a cup of tea,” she observes wryly.
He’s surprised to find himself embarrassed. He just spent two days dealing with the aftermath of a multiple, multiple personality’d psychopath slipping out of their grasp, not without slaughtering everyone in his way first, and he’s blushing over a cup of tea.
“Don’t get used to it,” he says gruffly.
There’s a flicker of amusement in her face. “And … sampled it, I gather from your ‘lukewarm and bland’ assessment.”
“Again. Don’t get used to it.”
“A food taster of my very own,” she says. She’s sardonic, but there’s something more tender than usual underneath it. “What would I do without you.”
He feels bad for her, all of a sudden. He knows she’s got a scientific mind, that she took this job for the promise of progress. He’s been with her for almost three years now, and he can’t quite blame her the way he did at first. Sure, maybe she’s asking for it, but – well, there might not be a right place, not where the Dollhouse is concerned, but whatever’s closest to the right place, that’s where her heart is.
He can’t believe he’s thinking this. God, he needs some sleep.
“If you’d like to go home for a few hours, please do,” she says with some of her usual briskness, like she’s reading his mind. “I’m beginning to suspect there’s not much more we can do around here.”
He thinks about it. Shower. Coffee. Then he looks back down at her. Her hair is escaping from its clip, falling into her face; her eye makeup’s smudged, a little. “The Head of Security should be on the premises,” he says. “Just in case.”
“Precisely the kind of thinking that made you Head of Security in the first place,” she replies, as if this is a perfectly practical business decision. They both know it isn’t. He should be on his game. Rest would be the best call for both of them right now. He doesn’t completely care. “You can sit down, if you like,” she adds.
His immediate impulse is to refuse, but he’s suddenly aware of just how long he’s been standing. He sits. He makes sure there’s space between them.
“This is terrible,” she says after awhile. “The tea.”
“I know,” he says, making a face at her as he looks over. “Sorry.”
She laughs, staring down into its depths. Then she turns and meets his eyes. She’s beautiful, he thinks. He’s too tired not to think it. Suddenly, the space between them seems like nothing at all. She leans forward, or maybe he does. It’s a near-imperceptible movement, but this, them, it’s always been like that. Nuances and details. Things most people wouldn’t notice at all. He feels all of them with her.
This can’t happen, he reminds himself.
“Ma’am,” he says, his voice a little hoarse, “regarding Alpha—”
To her credit, she shifts right away. There’s no awkward pause, no moment of transition. Her voice is steady as ever as she says, “Don’t. Please. Let’s give ourselves fifteen minutes to forget Alpha. Just this once. I get the feeling we won’t have the opportunity again for a very long time.”
“Okay,” he says. Lately, he can’t find it in himself to want to refuse her anything. He remembers before he came here, when he thought this job would be easy.
They sit in silence that’s mostly comfortable. She drinks the whole cup of tea. He expects her to fall asleep, but she doesn’t: she sits tall, her expression thoughtful. Eventually, he’s the one who drifts off.
A few weeks after Mr. Langton replaces Mr. Dominic as Head of Security, Adelle comes across the book of Katherine Mansfield short stories on her shelf at home. She considers throwing it out; considers burning it. But she is done with that, with falling prey to her own foolish impulses. It is a book, a rare and lovely book. It would be sentimental and foolish to give it any additional meaning. She decides she will spend the evening reading. She turns to “Bliss,” which has always been her favourite.
At the end of the story, the young woman realizes that her husband is having an affair with one of the dinner guests. It is particularly timed to sting, as it’s right after she has begun – randomly, exquisitely – to come alive, to feel her desire for him catch and burn bright, even though they’ve been together so long.
Bertha simply ran over to the long windows.
“Oh, what is going to happen now?” she cried.
But the pear tree was as lovely as ever and as full of flower and as still.
She cries. When she is done, she goes into the bathroom and washes her face with cold water. She considers her reflection, and does not leave until she is content that none of what she is feeling shows in her face. She puts the book back onto the shelf, then goes to pour herself a drink.
But God, he’s a mess, lying there shaking in that ridiculous white bodysuit. She thinks of him with his beautiful expensive suits, always so handsome. If he were in less physical pain he would, she is certain, be humiliated. She has ruined him quite utterly, she supposes. Her revenge, his punishment: it’s been very thorough. They tell her that he must go to a hospital, that he’ll die otherwise. The warning makes her stomach lurch, one breathless instant protest to the idea. For a second, all she knows is that she does not want him dead. The feeling is an unwelcome one, needless to say: she buries it in fury first, then in cool efficient mercilessness. She tells them to put him back in the Attic, because tactically, it is the best option. (Because long ago she cried over him until she couldn’t breathe, because Boyd Langton is the better man by far and still, still she misses Dominic by her side, and he will pay for that, he must pay for that.)
He catches her arm, his hand stiff and terribly cold. She does not know – and it’s a stupid thing to notice at all – whether he’s touched her before. She rather thinks he hasn’t, at least not intentionally, at least not in a way that he has meant as he means this now. She dimly recalls him catching her elbow once, to keep her from falling.
“You bitch,” he says, each word a fight; he is not weak, she’ll give him that. Perhaps he’s as hardened as she is. “I’d rather die.”
She leans in close. “Well, I’d rather you didn’t.”
She puts her hand on top of his. To pluck it off, to cast it aside: a very unimportant thing, this matter of his fingers on her skin. Her hands are much warmer than his. Even in his wasting state, his grip is very sure.
She drops his hand – leaves this room and her own words behind. Fortunately, she has no time to pause, to ponder whether she meant it, and why.
“I suppose I don’t seem so bad anymore, huh,” Dominic says, after she’s told him about Boyd Langton. They sit at one of the tables in the former crafts area. Old art supplies litter the floor; no one’s been very attentive when it comes to keeping the place clean. Once, she thinks wryly, she wouldn’t have stood for that – not in her House. Dominic is absently twisting a paint brush between his fingers. She has her own hands wrapped around a cup of tea, one of the last. Supplies are running out. She left Topher around a half hour ago, after she’d finally coaxed him into sleeping. Today was one of the torturous instances where he thinks ceaselessly of Bennett, insisting again and again that he can bring her back, at turns extolling her virtues and wiping her imagined blood from his face.
It says something about the state of her existence, that Laurence Dominic’s company has become soothing. (Again, adds a troublesome voice in the back of her head.)
“I suppose not, in comparison,” she agrees lightly. “It’s hardly saying much.”
“It wasn’t me,” he says. “The mole sending messages to Ballard through altered imprints. The chip in the chair. That wasn’t me. I didn’t want anyone finding the place any more than you did.”
“Looking at the big picture, I suppose it was Langton. All part of his master plan.” She embellishes the last two words with a scowl.
“I was NSA, but I wasn’t lying to you, before you sent me to the Attic,” he says, every bit as earnest and as harsh as when he was bound before her, that night in her house. “I wanted to keep the tech from leaking to the public. Keep the House safe. Just like you.”
“You were NSA,” she says, noting the past tense. It’s the only part of what he’s said that she can bring herself to latch onto.
“I’m not gonna delude myself into thinking I’m ever getting out of here.” He is a little frightening to look at, his face haggard, his bitterness so apparent in his features. “Besides. The end is nigh. All hell’s broken loose, plus a little extra. Where do I have to go?”
The life of everyone in this House is ruined. She thinks of the nightmare that rages outside their makeshift Eden here: at this point, in all likelihood, everyone in the modern world’s lives are ruined. And the important things have not changed. He was a spy. He was punished accordingly. Still, a memory suddenly plagues her: him strapped into the chair, eyes wild, fixed dead on her. The sudden bloom of pain when he shot her. She still has the scar – will always, of course, for what would be the point of scars otherwise?
His ruin, at least, is her fault.
“I’m sorry,” she says, meaning it. The words are soft, and sound very brittle.
He doesn’t say anything back. A little ways away, a large group of their fellow captives have begun to sing, something classic and beloved that she can’t remember the title of anymore. Their voices give it the dusky, hopeful reverence of a church hymn.
He steps into her office. “Sierra's been kidnapped.”
“Ah. She drew his focus away from Rayna.” She smiles up at him, pleased. “Well, that was a good call.”
He nods. “Thank you. Her handler's outside location, I told him to wait for our team.”
“Yes, that's best. Echo?”
“On task. Still protecting Rayna.”
He turns to go.
“Are you a fan, Mr. Dominic?” she finds herself asking.
He turns. “I'm sorry?”
“Rayna. Do you like her music?”
For a moment, she thinks he might smile. The question’s thrown him a bit, she can tell. He recovers easily. “I don't know if being a fan has much to do with that. Not at the level we’re dealing with.”
Professionally minded as ever. In fairness, she doubts he’d ever own up to a liking for something called Superstar (Smash It).
“No,” she agrees pleasantly. “Get the girl. Close it out.”
He does. She sits alone in her office, with nothing to do but wait for Echo to succeed, for their services to sort out the problem perfectly. They’ve laid the groundwork for it well. Even after Alpha, things are capable of running smoothly, of being mended. She feels a flash of fondness for Mr. Dominic. Three years now: hiring him was no doubt one of the best decisions she’s made for the House. She cannot quite imagine this place without him. She amuses herself by wondering what sort of music he might like.
It’s early in the morning; rain pounds on the roof, twitches down the windows. The two of them are the only ones up. They sit at the kitchen table, nursing cups of shitty instant coffee. He’s not sure he can remember the taste of good coffee, which he guesses is a small consolation. Adelle’s never been a coffee drinker, but she’s always been fiercely adaptable.
They don’t talk for awhile. Don’t really need to. They know each other well enough that silence isn’t unendurable in each other’s company. Besides, they’re both tired.
“This is new,” she finally remarks, tracing one finger lightly over a cut across his cheek that’s nearly healed.
“It’s not bad,” he says, and tries not to remember getting it.
“It seems every time you come back to me, I’ve some new wound to discover.”
“Yeah, well. Gotta keep you interested somehow.”
She laughs a little, and takes another sip of her coffee. He does the same.
“I’m beginning to feel like a soldier’s wife,” she says after awhile, looking at the rain on the windowsill instead of him. “Or Penelope, God forbid. Who knew the apocalypse could turn one so saccharine. You’d hope it’d have the opposite effect.”
He watches her, drinks in the sight of her. Her hair is messy and tangled, and there are circles under her eyes, lines on her face. He can’t remember the last time she wore makeup. She’s dressed in one of his shirts; it’s too big and slides down, leaving one shoulder bare. He thinks of all the times he’s nearly died, and the fact that somehow, he’s still here next to her, even though logic and chance and everything else says he shouldn’t be, even though the world’s ended.
“Every time you leave,” she says, still watching the rain, “I wonder, ‘Ah, will this be it, then. Will this be the last time I see him.’ It’s so wearying to wait for someone when you can’t even be certain they’ll come back.”
“If I promised you,” he says, “to always come back, something tells me I’d bite it the second I walked out the door.”
“Yes,” she agrees, her mouth curving in a sad smile. “That sounds just about right, all things considered.”
“Tell you what. Let’s not risk it.”
He reaches over and rests his hand on her bare shoulder. This right here, her skin underneath his fingers – somewhere along the line this became what he keeps fighting for. He doesn’t know what else there is to save. Sometimes, he doesn’t care. She closes her eyes and leans into the touch.
She’s more attractive than he’d expected. He’s seen pictures, and even some video footage. Somehow, that doesn’t prepare him for standing a few feet away from her. It’s not like walking in heels is a rare skill among women, but the way she does it as she comes up to meet him – it makes him think of siren song, ships dashed on rocks, not a chance of survival for the sailors, poor bastards. Resistance is futile: that kind of thing. There’s no way she’s not a crazy bitch, but hey, at least he’ll have something to look at day in and day out. In terms of assignments, he could have done a lot worse.
“A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Dominic,” she says. Her voice is warm and low and pretty, clipped and inviting all at once. The accent definitely works in her favor. He thinks he might understand how she gets those sorry sons of bitches to sign their lives away. It had seemed incomprehensible before. Her words, her demeanor, it’s all very professional, but a smile hints at her mouth, and her eyes are smart and bright. “My name is Adelle DeWitt. I look forward to working with you.”
“And you, ma’am,” he says. Gracefully, she offers her hand for him to shake.