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The Alternator

Chapter Text

It started with a small thing, as major revolutions sometimes do. It started with whispers which were impossible to pin down, as large amorphous rumors almost always do.

"You shouldn't have hired Dominique back," said Alvah Scarret, the editor-in-chief of the Wynand papers. He gnawed on a pencil, looking at Wynand worriedly. "Don't get me wrong, I love Dominique, I love her like my own daughter. But everyone's talking about it."

"Who's this everyone?" Wynand snapped.

"Well, Ellsworth, for one, he was just saying that it doesn't look good. Especially with the kinds of things she writes, Gail! It used to be, once in a while she'd bust out with something odd. But now it's every time! None of her columns make any sense, Gail! The Organization of Concerned Women just came to me and told me that they're pulling their advertising dollars."

"You may not think her columns make any sense, but you're wrong," Wynand said. "I've told Dominique she can write what she wants. Her columns are just fine. And Elsie! What does he know, anyway?"

"It just doesn't look good," Alvah repeated obstinately.

Wynand dismissed him and thought no more of it.

But the whispers continued, and then more than whispers. Dominique's work was called "unwomanly" and "needlessly inflammatory."

"I can't understand it," Alvah whimpered to Ellsworth Toohey. "He doesn't let her on the paper for years, and now this!"

Ellsworth Toohey laughed. "It was bound to come to this one way or another," he assured Alvah. "I didn't think this would be the crisis at hand, but let's just say I'm not surprised by the overall shape of the situation." He frowned as he said it. Dominique was a satisfactory way to precipitate his plans for the Banner, but he had hoped for something more. Something with, ideally, Howard Roark. If only Peter Keating had not had that wholly inconvenient marriage to his niece… well. It was years too late for that, now. And he had his key men in the Union of Wynand Employees; that was the important thing.

More businesses pulled their advertisements from the Banner. The Union of Wynand Employees put out a statement saying that they fully denounced the use of nepotism and favoritism on the Banner. The statement, without saying anything directly, managed to imply that non-Union employees were almost wholly Wynand ex-mistresses and their paramours.

Dominique said to Wynand, "It isn't working, what you're doing."

The ridges on Wynand's forehead stood out. "No. I've been amassing this power my whole life. I've been gathering it for something like this. And I'll use it, damn them all."

He wrote a savage editorial that started angrily and ended in pleading for the readers of the paper to think: to judge any writing on the paper on its own merit rather than on who wrote it. In response, the Union of Wynand Employees went on strike. The only ones who were left were old men, young men, drunks, incompetents, and Dominique.

Dominique was a competent hand wherever a competent hand was needed. She wrote a sports article on skiing; she had never skied. She edited at the same time as fixing one of the copy machines. Sometimes, after a long day, she and Wynand would look at each other across a room. They would not smile, but there would be a moment of communion, of support.

After three weeks of this, Wynand said to Dominique, "We're taking the weekend off."

"We can't," Dominique replied. "Seventeen more employees just walked off today, and there's a gaping hole in section B of the paper."

"Nevertheless, we're going to our country home. Tonight. And we're taking Roark with us."

Wynand was almost jittery from pent-up energy, as if the exertions of the day had not impinged upon him at all. "Go on to bed, Dominique," he said tenderly. "You as well, Howard. I'll come up in a few minutes."

The two of them went up the stairs and looked at each other.

"He's on a crusade to save me," Dominique said. "We are. We're partners in this doomed venture, we're ruining the Banner together. I love him, Roark; not like I love you, but I do love him. And we're doing all this, together… And I'm not even his."

"It's not that you are his, but that you are you," said Roark. "And you know it's necessary for him; this was bound to happen. If it weren't you he was risking the Banner for, it would be me. Perhaps if Peter Keating hadn't turned down Cortlandt, some flash point might have happened there… But I take your point, yes. I don't like it either. But I will defer to you in this. I always have."

"Then tonight, before it gets any farther," Dominique said, with a sudden finality. "Before he risks the whole Banner for me. We'll speak."

From the lifting of Roark's shoulders she knew how much it had been weighing on him. "Yes," he said, his voice underlying her resolution.

They looked at each other for another long moment. "Dominique," Roark said. His voice was unsure. Dominique remembered Wynand telling her once that all love was exception-making, and thought that she had never heard Roark being unsure about anything. "Dominique, if there were a way — I love him too. And he loves us both — if he agreed, if there were a way —"

"If there were a way," Dominique echoed. "I never thought that far. But perhaps. Perhaps—?" And she saw a light in Roark's eyes, in his face.

*

When Wynand let himself into his house late that night, he found Dominique and Roark waiting for him. They had heard the door and were standing at the foot of the stairs. She stood so that Wynand could see her whole body. There was a space between Dominique and Roark, and yet the whole set of his body seemed attuned to her, as if the two of them were connected by a thousand invisible strings.

"What's this?" Wynand asked gaily, his voice refusing all possibility of negativity. "I thought I told you both to go to sleep."

"Gail," Dominique said. "I want to tell you something."

Wynand looked at her, and then at Roark, and then back again to her. "That sort of declaration," he said, "seems to be common in the worse sort of book, and always seems to be followed by something the listener doesn't want to hear. Well, what is it?"

"I love Howard Roark. I've loved him for years. He was the first man who had me."

Wynand's eyes flew quickly, helplessly, to Roark. "Howard…" She thought his face was distorting with some powerful emotion. She blinked and it was gone, yet the perception remained as of a lion at bay. His brows contracted as he thought. He said slowly, "But you have done nothing since our marriage."

"No," said Dominique.

"I think I should have understood. You married me right after the Stoddard trial. And —" his voice was flat, without emotion -- "you love her, Howard."

"Yes."

"Yet you built this house for us."

"Yes."

Wynand was quiet, waiting for something, although he did not look like he knew what he was waiting for.

"You know it already; the house I built for you tells you more than any words I could say. But I will say it out loud as well. I love you," Roark said, looking straight at Wynand. Each word was spaced evenly, as if Roark was investing each with a great weight. Dominique felt the pressure of each word on her skin. "I've never told you that before, not in those words, but you know it. I have given you my friendship. I would die for you, if need be. And I would, also, give you my body and my naked need."

Dominique did not touch Roark in any way, and yet she had never been so aware of his body next to hers. "I don't love you, Gail, the way you love me," she said. "You know that too. But I care for you deeply. And I love Howard, and he loves you…"

Wynand looked at them both for a long moment in silence. Then he looked at Dominique and said, "I love you, Dominique."

He looked straight at Roark. "And I love you, Howard."

Roark took a slow step forward, and then Wynand himself had moved, whip-fast, to put his mouth on Roark's.

*

Dominique awoke the next morning in a warm tangle of arms and legs. She raised her head and looked around her. Roark and Wynand were still sleeping. All three of them were completely naked, clothes strewn across the room. Roark was sprawled across the bed, with seeming disregard to either Wynand or Dominique's bodies, which were half covering his. Roark's hand was open and relaxed beside her. She looked at it, at the strong fingers, the lines of the palm. One of Wynand's hands was curled possessively around Roark's thigh.

She sat up. Wynand opened his eyes and smiled lazily at her. "Dominique, my love," he said, and leaned over to kiss her.

Roark stirred. Without opening his eyes, he said, "Gail!"

Wynand grinned. "Yes, of course you can have one too, Howard." He reached up to caress Roark's red hair as he moved to kiss Roark.

Dominique's mind flashed back to the night before, the convulsing of the two others around her, moving together, bodies slick and taut, Roark's hand on her breast, Wynand's mouth on Roark… She found her body kindling again, thinking of it. Looking at Roark and Wynand, she saw their kiss had deepened, become more concentrated, and that their bodies, too, were responding.

Wynand broke the kiss, though he did not stop looking at Roark. Roark looked at Dominique; he stretched out an arm to her, drew her into an embrace, so that the three of them were entwined in each other.

Wynand said, "On Monday we'll go back to the Banner. We'll go back to fighting. But this weekend is ours."

*

At the end of the next week, Wynand stood alone at the window of his office, looking over the city. His posture was ramrod straight; his hands were clasped behind his back. He looked like a soldier, or like an aristocrat, considering the guillotine.

The presses thrummed steadily below him. Usually this was a comforting sound. Today it was not.

The Union of Wynand Employees had given an ultimatum: they would come back only if he fired Dominique. He had tried to hire others. He had offered outrageous salaries. No one had come. One man had spit in his face. He had stood there for a moment, the spittle dripping off his chin, and turned on his heel and walked away.

He knew he would be able to go on for quite a while as he had been going. But the dark knowledge pooled at the bottom of his brain kept rising up: he could not go on this way forever. For a long time, yes. But not forever.

He would have to give in, or he would have to close the Banner.

He thought of the new masthead rising over the door of the Gazette. The Banner.

It had been his life. Perhaps it had been a mistaken life, a life that he now knew was in search of a power that was not really his, but it had been his life all the same.

What was he without it?

He leaned on what he knew of Roark and Dominique: that he loved them both, that Roark loved him, that Dominique cared for him in her own way; that Roark and Dominique loved each other. He thought: this is something no man can do for another. I can't make choices for the sake of Roark or for Dominique, nor they for me. But I can draw strength from them; they can be a light, showing me the way to my best self.

The moment passed.

Nothing happened; the presses kept a steady reassuring beat beneath his feet.

But in that moment, he knew, the Banner had died in the most important way: it had died in his mind. Framed in his brain was the way it would have to go. He would have to buy out Toohey's men, Mitchell Layton in particular; he would have to do so quietly, so that none of Toohey's boys still there would know what was coming and block it. Fortunately, he thought, with a grim stab of humor, the vast majority of them had walked out in the strike.

What was he without the Banner?

I will find out, he thought. I will slough this off, like a snake shedding a dead decayed skin, and I will find Howard and Dominique on the other side.

*

Eighteen months later, after she had let out her kindergarten class, Catherine Keating walked to the construction site of the Keating-Roark Housing Development. Applications for Rentals Open to All Without Regard to Income, read a small sign on the fence surrounding the area.

She saw Peter Keating was gesturing to Dominique Wynand, who was scribbling something down on a pad with a small frown. Dominique had just published a book on architecture, with severely mixed reviews but steady sales, and Catherine knew she was working on a novel. Dominique had realized she needed to know more about sales techniques for the novel, and Keating was talking to her about it.

She saw Gail Wynand, talking to Howard Roark. Wynand had given up the newspaper business in New York, and he had moved to a more single-minded focus on financial systems. "You're spending too much time on this! I'm going to have to bid for your time to work on the Wynand Building," she heard Wynand say, grinning, and she saw Roark smile back at him and clap him on the shoulder. Wynand took Roark's other hand. Catherine's eyebrows raised. She had had her suspicions for quite a while, and this only confirmed them.

Dominique nodded at Keating, apparently finished with their conversation, and went to stand by Wynand and Roark. Wynand let go of Roark's hand to smooth her hair, and Roark smiled at them both. Catherine walked up to Keating, who greeted her happily and put an arm around her as she snuggled into his shoulder.

Catherine smiled, thinking of all of them. They were all important, in the interconnectedness of life: the ones who created, the ones who brought the creations to fruition, the ones who built the financial structures to support the creations, the ones who taught the future: Catherine and Dominique and Wynand and Roark — and Peter Keating.