She was the deal-breaker. "I won't work with her."
DeWitt had raised an elegant eyebrow. "I assure you that in your new role you'll have very little to do with the Actives."
"Let me rephrase, then." He had leaned forward. "I won't work here while she's here."
"You didn't originally find her so distasteful."
He'd gripped the arms of the chair and thought about how unwise it would be, how unchivalrous, how counterproductive. Echo told him to find out the Dollhouse's purpose. He had a chance to do that from the inside. He had a chance to look at her every day. "Either you pay her up and ship her out or I walk. And we both know you can't afford to let me walk."
To her credit, DeWitt hadn't threatened him or blustered. In fact, she'd smiled slightly before calling in Langton. "Mr. Langton, tell Topher that November has fulfilled the terms of her contract a bit earlier than expected. Have her brought up to me when she's finished."
Her name is Madeleine.
It shouldn't really matter to him. It doesn't matter. He has work to do, to learn the secrets of the Dollhouse, to tease out Alpha's trail. Ironically, they give him Lubov for help--Lubov, the cut-up Ken, who used to have a real name and a real past. Lubov's memories have been edited to account for things like his face, and he seems to think that they're living in some fucked-up buddy cop movie and keeps offering to buy him drinks and smokes too many cigarettes, usually inside the car, just to be extra annoying.
Her real name is Madeleine.
There are people on the Internet who think they know about the Dollhouse. He used to be one of them. They trade stories about black vans and conspiracies and unspeakably beautiful people who do impossible things. Ninety percent of them are probably delusional liars.
My name is Madeleine, she writes. I used to work for the Dollhouse.
He sees Caroline--Echo--every day, even when he doesn't have to. He finds excuses to go downstairs, to find Langton or Brink in the chair room, and there she is, because she wanted to come back. And he thinks to her, You're next, one day, I promise you'll be next.
"This is a breach of security."
"She's having seizures. Flashbacks."
"None of our former Actives have ever complained of lasting health effects."
"And you do longitudinal studies on them? Follow-up MRIs?"
"She must be silenced."
"Then let me handle it."
"I was under the impression that you couldn't even bear to look at her, Mr. Ballard. What do you intend to do?"
He still dreams about her, sometimes. Of being with her. It still makes him sick to his stomach.
They meet in a cafe. She's lost weight, but it doesn't look good on her. "Are you--?" she asks, and then stops, because they hadn't exchanged names in the email.
"I'm Paul," he said. "I'm the Internet guy. And you're Madeleine."
"That's right." She holds her purse in her lap when she sits, and she fidgets; she's more animated that when she left the Dollhouse, more alive, more real. She glances at his face a lot. "You look...familiar, sort of."
"We've met before," he said. "I don't know if you remember or not--you were a little, um, out of it."
She takes that as permission to study him closely, eyes focusing on his mouth, his nose, his hair, his chin. "I," she said, then frowned. "I think." Deep breath. "Did I ever make you lasagna?"
His stomach threatens to crawl out of his mouth and he looks past her as he says, "You need to stop talking about the Dollhouse."
"We talked," he will tell DeWitt. "I reminded her about the contract and what she had to lose. I think once she realized how fast we found out about her blabbing, she realized she'd made the wrong choice."
She will study him and ask, "What about her medical situation?"
"I asked her to send us a neurologist's evaluation," he will said. "I assume that if she shows any damage attributable to the chair, you'll cover her long-term health-care costs."
"Or what, Mr. Ballard?" she will ask, looking amused again while he holds himself rigid and strong. "Will you walk away from us again? Do you really hold yourself so highly?"
"I just figured that on occasion you might try doing the right thing for a change," he will say, and she will accept the riposte, because she is a better fencer than he will ever be and knows not to point out when he leaves himself wide open.
She kisses him before he goes, soft, and he has the willpower to find the invisible Dollhouse but not to pull away. "I'm sorry," she blurts when she pulls back. "I'm so sorry, Paul, I don't know--I just--" She winces and goes into her purse, pulling out a bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol. "I'm so sorry. It just...happens."
"Why did you become a Doll?" he asks, to fight through the smell of her hair.
She blinks at him. "Does it really matter?"
She dry-swallows the Tylenol and sits on a bench. He stands, leaning over the back. "I...my husband was a bad man," she says softly. "But I never thought he'd hurt the baby. Until he did."
"Where is he now?"
She shuts her eyes and takes a deep breath. "I think they call it a, a persistive vegetative state?"
"A coma," he said.
"A coma." She shrugged, lets out a brittle laugh. "I guess I hit him pretty hard. The lamp was heavy."
She has little pain lines all around her eyes and a husband in a coma and her name is Madeleine. Paul kisses her, once again, in the middle of the forehead, and says as gently as he can, "If you ever see me again, it'll be because the Dollhouse has sent me to kill you." She looks up at him with terrified eyes. "They'll protect the information," he echoes. And: "I hope you find a good man."
"Okay," she says weakly, and clutches her purse to her chest like she hasn't ever killed a man.
He doesn't look back while he walks to the car. Lubov is chain-smoking in the passenger seat. "I didn't know you go for the fatties," he says.
"Shut the fuck up," he answers.
Because that's what he usually says, Lubov just snorts and leans over to ogle her through the window. "Hey, I don't criticize. I would hit that myself. As long as my friends don't know about."
"Don't smoke in the fucking car," Paul says, and drives away from Madeleine.