The company Christmas party is filled with a group of the most wealthy, influential, easy-to-hate humans in all of the city, the state, the country, the continent, the world, the universe, etc., and only ends after approximately five thousand years; he waits for her to climb into the limo first, then follows suit. As soon as the door is shut, she exhales, and the sound is like the cranky adolescent love child of a scoff and a sigh.
“Well, that was charming,” she deadpans.
“Oh yeah,” he agrees flatly.
She lets out a dry laugh and then they sink into companionable silence. He looks out the window on his side for a little while, so used to the sight of the city that he doesn’t really bother to actually see it. After awhile, without really meaning to, he switches his gaze to her instead. She’s staring out her own window, polished as ever but obviously glad the night is over. A few strands are beginning to sneak out of her updo, which he guesses is a chignon or a French twist or whatever the hell you’re supposed to call it when a woman puts her hair up and gets serious about it. Whatever it is, it looks good. The glow from the streetlights keeps catching in her hair and then flickering out again as they drive on, catching and flickering out. He maybe had one cocktail too many as the evening neared its close, an act of desperation, self-preservation, something like that in hopes that the goddamn shindig would just end already. Now he’s wondering whether that was such a good idea. It’s not like he’s drunk. Just … extra-observant.
“Do you know,” she says, and he starts a little bit at her sudden attention, “I really can’t stand most of our esteemed associates.”
“I’d say that’s understandable, ma’am.”
She gives him a faint smile. “Yes, of course. You don’t particularly like what it is we do, do you?”
He sits up a little more, feeling uncomfortable. Sometimes he thinks she’s a little too insightful for either of their good. “I understand the importance of the work I’m doing. I believe in that. And I definitely get why people make use of our … services.” The word comes out a little bitter. “The way I see it, my personal feelings about the House don’t really matter. It’s business.”
“Yes, well,” she says, smirking vaguely, “your professionalism is much appreciated, Mr. Dominic.”
It’d be easy to let things get quiet again, but his curiosity’s piqued. After a few seconds of silence, he asks, “You like what we do?”
To be honest, he doesn’t expect much more than a wry smile and a clipped answer, something charming and pointed and empty. He’s spent his whole adult life working around people who put the job before anything else, who disappear into it, but sometimes he thinks he’s never met anyone who does it as well as her. She doesn’t just shut down, become all brisk and neutral. She makes it graceful.
So it surprises him to see her look thoughtful all of a sudden.
At last, she says, “I understand its necessity. Those who come to us, who become our Actives … I think the arrangement they make with us ultimately helps them to find a better life, one that would have been denied to them otherwise.” She pauses. “Besides, I think nearly all of us – especially the rich, the powerful, the successful – are at the core very lonely and very weak. All so very much in need of healing.”
“And that’s what we do?” he asks – disgusted, sure, but interested in spite of himself. She’s good, inconveniently good at being interesting. “Heal people?”
Her mouth curves, looking almost wistful this time. “Too maudlin, perhaps, in your estimation?”
“I guess I just always thought that the best cure for weakness was to try to get stronger.”
The corner of her mouth twitches. “Very sensible.”
“I would’ve thought that’d be your approach, too,” he says, truthfully. He’s spent hours with this woman every day for almost a year now, and he’s thought her a lot of things. (Surprising. Smart. Deluded. Frightening. Impressive. Admirable. Twisted. Frustrating. Not exactly unpleasant to look at, not that that’s relevant or even something that’s occurred to him more than once. Or twice. Or – … twice.) Wrong – inherently, seriously and profoundly wrong – but never weak.
He looks at her now and suddenly realizes that she means the sales pitch she delivers to each new client. He always assumed she was bullshitting it – doing it well, of course, with that siren song lull to her voice, gentle and seductive, mystical. Not to mention the tea. The tea’s a nice touch. He’s always figured every pause, every cross of her legs, every word is designed with one aim in mind.
It probably is. But suddenly he knows that there’s truth underneath it. That’s the reason she sells it so well, the reason it’s so tempting to believe.
He looks at her, and he can’t quite adjust to the notion that Adelle DeWitt, of all people, is that blindly idealistic.
“I try,” she replies at last, very simply.
He wishes, not for the first time, that he didn’t like her so much. The situation he’s in is precarious enough already. Not to mention fucked up enough already. She brings one hand up in a slow, drifting movement and presses it against her neck, massaging it absently. He looks away.
“Are you seeing anyone, Mr. Dominic?”
She asks it lightly, offhandedly. For a second, he thinks he’s hallucinating. But he looks over and she’s watching him. It’s too dark to make out the specifics of her expression. Orange light spills through the window and illuminates half her face. There’s something off and almost intimate about seeing her features in the dark. (He’s always had a thing for brunettes; just his luck. Sometimes he’s convinced some sick higher power is laughing its ass off at his expense, delighting in his misfortune. This is a theory that gets strengthened at certain moments that he never sees coming: she’ll laugh or lift an eyebrow, brush against him without meaning to, make a remark that’s on the tip of his tongue, and he’ll see how all this could end, how easy it would be to slip up. He won’t, of course. There’s a reason he’s the one doing this job. But it doesn’t change the fact that sometimes he feels like she was tailormade to drive him out of his mind. She’s sick, this whole organization is sick, it deserves to crumble into dust and he wants to be right there to watch it fall and fragment, and still he doesn’t want to betray her. He hates her sometimes for not being the woman he’d expected to meet – just delusional, just twisted, some fairytale stepmother type who’d deserve what she was going to get. He knew plenty about her before he met her but there are certain things you can’t see coming, like the way she looks right now with darkness draped over her, her hair coming loose and her hand on her neck. Maybe he is a little drunk.) She doesn’t look embarrassed to have asked the question. She keeps her eyes right on him and awaits a response.
“No,” he says. “Not for awhile now.”
“Ah,” she says, and makes no further attempt at conversation. She stops looking at him, and that alone is enough of a dismissal. They’ve never had much trouble communicating without words.
She could have just looked in his file. He tries not to contemplate what she meant by asking. He forces himself to look out his window for the rest of the drive, and doesn’t pay much attention to the sound of her breathing, and doesn’t imagine her fingers graceful against the line of her neck.