“Would you care for some tea, Mr. Dominic?”
"Yes, I would. Thank you, ma'am.”
Dominic took the proffered tea cup and sipped it with a forced smile.
Adelle leaned back in her chair and took the opportunity to quietly study the man sitting across from her.
Laurence Dominic, pale hair and pale eyes that matched a gray, well-tailored suit. Perfect, unyielding posture. Mildly attractive, but certainly not the type to turn heads.
He doesn't want the tea, but he'll drink it if he thinks it will give him this job.
Adelle had already seen his file. Laurence Dominic, a graduate of Northwestern University in computer science with a minor in business administration. Fifteen years at a private security firm in Illinois and six years as a handler at the Tampa Dollhouse. Single, no living relatives except for an aunt in Missouri. His records were impeccable, but they also indicated a quiet man who kept to himself. Her counterpart in Florida described him as utterly and completely devoted to his job, but somewhat lacking in personality.
That was just what Adelle needed.
“My previous head of security took an unprofessional interest in our actives.” And brought my programmer in to help indulge his sexual proclivities, she mentally added. “I trust that this won't be a problem with you, Mr. Dominic?”
Again the forced smile. “Not at all, ma'am. I prefer my women to be more than programmed zombies. Speaking of which, do you really think it's safe for them to just wander around the building? They're helpless, one attack and this place would be a slaughterhouse.”
“Well, Mr. Dominic,” Adelle casually gathered the tea cups and set them to the side. Judith would take them to the kitchen. “It's imperative to the state of our actives that they have a healthy, relaxing environment when they're not otherwise occupied on engagements. As for their safety, that will be your responsibility.”
Dominic gave his first genuine smile, which Adelle suspected to be a rare occurrence.
“So I have the job, then?”
“Yes, it's yours. Welcome to the LA Dollhouse, Mr. Dominic. Judith will take care of your paperwork.”
Dominic shook her hand and went out the door. Adelle went back to her desk and smiled, knowing she had found the right man for the job.
Finding a new programmer proved to be a bit more difficult. Adelle had originally set her eyes on Bennett Halverson. She and Lipman went head to head, both vying for the services of the young genius.
After the bombing in Tucson, however, Adelle was happy to leave Bennett to the DC Dollhouse. Instead she hired Topher Brink, another one of Rossum's rising stars.
They despised each other from the start, this stern, humorless man and the eccentric young genius.
“Are you sure he's not a robot?” Topher was seated at his desk, monitoring the actives' vital signs and consuming a bag of potato chips when Adelle barged in to confront him.
Adelle ignored the question. “Mr. Dominic was not amused by your little practical joke and neither am I. Sending a group of actives to fawn over my head of security is a waste of valuable company resources and I will not tolerate this sort of behavior in my house. Is that understood, Mr. Brink?”
“A, lighten up. B, I programmed them to be a bunch of groupies who thought Dom was a rock star. Next thing I know, he's pointing a gun at my head!”
To Mr. Brink's good fortune, one of the handlers had just happened to walk into the imprinting room and managed to pull Dominic off of Topher, with Ivy's help. Adelle herself had been given the task of calming Dominic down.
Adelle leaned over and grabbed Topher by the scruff of his shirt, causing his bag of greasy carbohydrates to fall and scatter on the carpet. “Topher Brink, this manner of behavior may have been acceptable in your dorm room at Berkeley, but in the dollhouse this manner of conduct will not stand. Do this again and I will personally assist Mr. Dominic in sending your body to the attic. Is that understood?”
“Yes, ma'am.” Topher choked in reply.
“Good.” Adelle walked out of the imprinting room, her high heels clicking against the floor.
Most days, Adelle was satisfied with her second in command. He was smart, attentive, and unswervingly loyal, although not afraid to question her judgment when the need arose.
Yet, there was an air of mystery to Mr. Dominic, a puzzle that Adelle longed to solve. She prided herself on her ability to read people; it was that talent that had elevated her from a simple neuroscientist to one of Rossum's elite. Devoted as he was to the safety of the house, actives and staff alike, Adelle could sense that he found what they did to be morally abhorrent. Adelle wondered what had led him to this job. All of the Dolhouse staff had secrets stashed somewhere, bundled under their suits, their sweater vests, inside of Adelle's three inch heels. Unlike the others, however, Dominic's secrets weren't stored on her computer hard drive.
She wondered if this was why she felt so inexplicably drawn to him, what made him so alluring.
Adelle was fully aware of Rossum's policies on interoffice romances. Despite the mounting tension between herself and Dominic, despite the looks they exchanged when no one else was watching, she would never indulge...at least not under ordinary circumstances.
It had been a long day for the both of them. September was the house's most popular time of year and nearly every one of their actives had been booked for two weeks straight.
Adelle had a massive headache, and her feet hurt from walking to and fro around the house. She had already poured herself two rounds of vodka and it was only a quarter past nine.
“Topher still claims he doesn't know how Whiskey and Gamma's imprints were switched. Something tells me he's just trying to cover up for his own mess,” Dominic said.
“Well, it could be the new girl Ivy, although from what she's told me Topher only has her on snack duty. In the meantime, I have two very unhappy clients on my hand.”
The searing pain in her head was still there. Strange that she had a full bar at her disposal but not an asprin in sight. Almost absentmindedly, she removed the pins from her hair, hoping the release of the tightly wound chignon would relieve some of her discomfort. Then she pulled off the uncomfortable shoes and rubbed her aching feet.
“Ma'am, is there anything else you need from me?”
She looked up to see that Dominic was still standing there. Had I forgotten to dismiss him?
He was looking at her, his eyes full of hunger and desire. It was a look she had seen before, but never of this magnitude. A look she knew was mirrored in her own eyes.
Adelle didn't remember who kissed who first, only that she found herself halfway across the room, her hands clinging to his shoulders, not wanting to break apart from him, not even daring to come up for air. It took everything she had not to drag Dominic on to the sofa and have her bloody way with him.
Then the phone rang.
Silently cursing, Adelle reached over and grabbed it.
“Hey, little frakking problem here!” It was Topher. “It's Sierra, her vitals have gone flat and I can't get ahold of Hearn.”
She was simultaneously annoyed and grateful for the interruption.
Adelle briefly flirted with the idea of having Dominic transferred to New Mexico, but decided having an effective chief of security outweighed any future embarrassments she might suffer. Instead, she found a more creative way to alleviate her own desires. She'd fashioned the persona of Ms. Lonelyhearts, and found herself a "perfect lover."
“This is all we've been able to recover from Dominic's apartment. It looks like he didn't leave much behind.”
Adelle carefully shuffled through the contents of the package Boyd had placed on her desk. Laurence Dominic had lived a rather spartan existence for a man of his salary, yet another telltale sign of his true identity. A change of clothes, a toothbrush, and a folder containng a few minor documents from the office were all that remained of the man who had spent three years by her side.
She was about to hand the items back to Boyd, when a picture fell out from the pile. She picked it up, surprised to see her own face in the photo. It was a snapshot from one of those dreadful functions Rossum held every year. Adelle was smiling for the camera with Dominic standing awkwardly at her side.
Why had he kept this? The NSA probably had a full dossier on her in their database, there was no need for Dominic to keep a photo of her in his possession. Had he felt the same as she did? Did he also remember that kiss with longing and a bit of shame?
“That will be all, Mr. Langton.” Adelle slipped the picture back inside the folder. “I trust you'll know what to know with these items. Now, if you don't mind, I have a meeting with a client in half an hour.”
“Of course, ma'am.”
Adelle cast her memories of Dominic aside and walked over to her computer, pulling up the file on her newest client. She was Adelle Dewitt and she had no time to waste on sentiments or regrets.
Topher grew more and more unstable as the days passed. He'd never been himself after Bennet's death, but after the phone call went out, after the world went to chaos, he suffered a complete mental breakdown.
Sometimes she envied him, this poor shell of the man she had once known. After all, she was as responsible as he for the so-called “Thoughtpocalypse”. It would have been nice to give everything up, to just crawl into a corner and cry with Topher. Adelle Dewitt, however, didn't have that option. She was still the head of the LA Dollhouse, leader of what remained of LA's unimprinted population, a woman people looked up to with respect and a bit of misguided admiration.
She cared for Topher the best she could and tried to retain some semblance of stability in the house. Outside, the world continued to burn.
“Most of them are too far gone, ma'am," she was saying. "There's no hope of reviving them.”
Adelle had never been to the attic before, though she had supplied it with a fair amount of actives and staff over the years. There was something about the place that was too dark and foreboding, even for her. It brought back childhood memories of the time she had accidentally locked herself in the cellar while playing hide and seek with her cousin.
She inwardly shivered and turned back to the task at hand.
“Take those poor souls out of their misery, Dr. Saunders, and do what you can to save the others.” Adelle was grateful Topher had been cognizant enough to re-imprint Whiskey after their return from Tucson.
“Of course, Ms. Dewitt. There's also the matter of Mr. Dominic. Three years is a long time, he doesn't stand much of a chance. I could try putting active architecture in his brain...”
“No, he wouldn't stand for it. If there's anything I know about Laurence Dominic, it's that he's a survivor of the highest caliber. Do what you can to bring him back to consciousness and he'll do the rest for you."
In some ways, the resurrected Laurence Dominic proved to be just as unstable as Topher. When he wasn't busy roaming the streets of Los Angeles, (how he continually managed to survive and return in one piece was beyond Adelle's comprehension), he wandered around the house aimlessly and was never without his gun. Claire Saunders was the only one he would speak to. All of the other residents were terrified of him.
At least he hadn't pulled a gun on her since that unfortunate incident in her office.
Someone had tipped Topher off about the blanket wave in China, triggering his worst episode yet. Adelle spent most of the day holding and comforting him, until they both fell asleep.
She woke up to find Dominic peering over the edge of the pod.
“You know, I've always wondered about you two.”
Adelle was halfway between fear and annoyance. She could lie there and let her psychotic ex-head of security wake Topher up and possibly blow them both to hell or she could find a way to distract him.
She quietly rose from the pod, sliding into her shoes and heading down the corridor. Somehow she knew Dominic would follow her.
“What time is it, Mr. Dominic?” she asked as if they were still a pair of business associates.
“Why, it's 3:30 in the morning, ma'am,” he replied mockingly.
She continued towards the common room, hoping she could get Dominic off her tail.
“Uh uh,” Dominic said, as she rounded the next corner. “This way, Dewitt, I have something to show you.”
Adelle paused, staring at Dominc with a well-placed look that would have had a lesser man running in fear.
“Oh come on, Dewitt, if I wanted to kill you, I would have done it by now." He paused. "Okay, fine.”
Dominc pulled his gun out of his holster and handed it to a surprised Adelle.
“Why thank you, Mr. Dominic. But something tells me you're actually carrying another weapon.”
Dominic stood in front of her and spread his arms wide.
“You're welcome to search me, ma'am, if that's what it takes.”
The fear had faded and been replaced with idle curiosity. “That won't be necessary, Mr. Dominic." She allowed him to lead her to the imprinting room.
To her surprise, Dominic opened Topher's fridge and pulled out a six pack of beer.
“I don't think Topher will be needing this anytime soon,” he said as he handed her a bottle.
“No, I imagine not.” Was this Dominic's misguided attempt at an apology for destroying half her mini-bar?
“Why thank you. It's a shame Topher didn't leave behind the glasses as well.”
“It's beer, Adelle, you drink it straight out of the bottle. Not as good as the moonshine my grandfather used to make, but it'll do in an apocalypse.”
Dominic sat down on the floor and patted the space beside him. Adelle gave up trying to decipher the reason behind his strange behavior and took the seat on the carpet next to him.
“So, Ms. Dewitt, how does it feel to go from serial rapist to serial killer?”
Adelle took another sip of beer. “It makes me wish that you hadn't blown up the rest of my scotch.”
Did Dominic know about her engagements with Victor or was her referring to her role as the head of the Dollhouse? It wouldn't surprise her if it was the former. At the time, the Roger persona had seemed perfectly justified, a sensible way to satisfy her needs and desires. However, she had never expected to encounter Victor again after his contract was up, let alone see Anthony on a daily basis. Yet another memory, another regret she had to put aside for fear of turning into another Topher.
Instead, she changed the subject to something more relevant to present day. "I've spoken with the former tattoo artist who's been doing our 'birthmarks.' I nearly asked him to design one for you. But I don't know if Laurence Dominic is even your real name.”
Dominic snorted. “Like I'd willingly choose a name like Laurence.”
“Is that so?” Adelle replied. “It is a bit old-fashioned, but I always thought it had a pleasant ring to it.”
This time she got a genuine laugh out of him. “It's a stuffy, aristocratic name that belonged to my mother's uncle. Lucky for me that it fit right with the persona I needed to get into the Dollhouse. Say, would you like another beer?”
Adelle watched as Dominic walked to the fridge and grabbed two more drinks. She took advantage of the opportunity to slip out of her heels.
“Is there a reason you're still wearing those ridiculous shoes? Not that I mind what they do for your legs, but no one else here gives a crap about what you look like... and why are you laughting?
She wasn't sure what was causing her sudden fit of hysteria, the beer or the simple absurdity of the situation. “It's nice to finally meet you, Mr. Dominic,” Adelle said between giggles.
“Well, it's good to know that I'm so damn amusing.”
She lay back on the carpet and stretched out her feet. Dominic might not be her ideal choice of company, but it felt good to have a conversation with someone that didn't need any form of comfort or reassurance.
“So what were your plans for the Dollhouse? Were you planning on turning us in, taking Rossum down from the inside?”
Dominic curled up beside her so they were laying face to face. “No, as I told you before you sucked out my brain and sent me to the attic, my assignment was to observe and contain the technology unless an extreme situation arose.”
“And what if it had, Mr. Dominic? What if the NSA had ordered you to kill me?”
“I had already spoken to them about that prospect. I had already convinced them to let me try and bring you in, have you testify against Rossum.”
“Save me from my evil, evil ways, then? Did it ever occur to you that I might not wish to be rescued?”
Dominic smiled and drew even closer. “I would do anything to keep you alive, Ms. Dewitt.”
Adelle wasn't surprised when Dominic kissed her, but she was surprised to find herself returning his advances, and absolutely astonished to find herself leading him over to Topher's couch.
This time there were no interruptions.
The next day Adelle found a pair of slippers, exactly her size, laying next to Topher's pod. A note was attached with the words, “WEAR THESE.”
The first time was full of need and over far too soon. After that, Dominic proved himself to be a talented and generous lover. Adelle gave as good as she got and their little rendezvous' became a regular routine.
“Sometimes I wonder if any of this is real,” Dominic muttered as they lay curled up in one of their favorite hiding spots. “If anyone had done what you did to me, even Whiskey, I would have blown them to kingdom come. But you... sometimes I wonder if I'm really an active, programmed to protect and serve you in any way you wish.”
Adelle sometimes wondered the same thing, although under a different context. War made for strange bedfellows. Never had the saying been more true than with her and Dominic.
“Well, if you're a doll, Mr. Dominic, there are some serious issues with your programming. Perhaps you're in need of a treatment?”
They both dissolved into fits of laughter. Adelle rolled over and straddled him. That was the end of that conversation.
“I can't stay”, Dominic said the night after Caroline returned. “Even if this place does exist. I'll go with you on the journey, but after that I'm leaving.”
Adelle stared at him in confusion. “You can't mean that. All this time together and now you want to take off?”
“It's not you,” he said, tracing his thumb along her face from cheekbone to jawline. “You're the only reason I've stayed in this miserable place for the past two years. There are people out there, more Actuals like us, trying to survive in this world. They need my help. Hell, maybe I'll even find a cure for this madness along the way.”
Adelle moved over and turned her back to him on the makeshift bed Dominic had put together. “So you get to go out and play hero while I stay home and mind the children. Is that really what you want, Dominic?”
Dominic laid a kiss on the nape of her neck. “I'll come back to you, I'll always come back to you. I just can't watch the world fall to pieces and do nothing.”
Adelle remained silent for the rest of the night.
True to his word, Dominic left as soon as they arrived at Safe Haven. He wasn't the only part of the group to leave. Caroline and Ballard left as well, taking Anthony with them. Priya and Anthony had fought even before the baby was born, but even Adelle had been surprised by this turn of events. Anthony had always been a bit too fascinated by the imprint technology, but she had never pegged him for a man who would willingly leave his child.
Adelle spent her days tending to the flock, managing the household, caring for Topher and Priya's newborn son, anything to take her mind off of Dominic. She shared a bedroom with Topher, who had fazed out of reality completely. It was up to her to make sure he was fed, his most basic needs attended to.
He returned two years later, bringing with him a group of non-imprinted refugees. Adelle stared at him from the kitchen, not sure if she wanted to slap him or take him in her arms, grateful that he had managed to survive.
“I hate the beard,” she said.
“Really?” he replied. “I think it brings character to my face.”
“You look like a bloody Neanderthal!”
Dominic laughed in response and Adelle found herself joining him. All the anger, all the resentment seemed to melt away in that one perfect moment.
Priya poked her head around the door. “T and I can look after Topher tonight so you can get some rest, Adelle." She winked at Dominic.
“Thank you, Priya but that wouldn't be-”
“That sounds like a great idea, thank you, Priya,” Dominic said.
Adelle cursed him under her breath and vowed to make Dominic pay. She had always gone out of her way to keep her “romance” with him a secret from the rest of the group. Apparently, Dominic hadn't been so discreet.
She used a straight razor to shave the hideous mass off of Dominic's face herself and if she left a few scratches behind, he didn't complain.
“Have you ever thought about what you'll do when this nightmare is over? Besides checking Topher into a mental institution.”
Adelle threw a pillow at him in response. Strange how New Haven suffered from a constant food shortage, but fabric was plentiful.
“To be honest, I've never had the luxury of thinking so far ahead.”
“I'd like to go back to my grandfather's cabin in Missouri. We can shack up there, have a couple of kids, spend the rest of our days drinking moonshine in the backyard.”
Adelle sat up and ran a hand through her graying hair. “If you haven't noticed, Dominic, the deadline for children has already passed."
“We could always adopt.”
Both of them know this facade of a relationship would never survive in the “real world.” Here, where everyday was a fight for survival, they could put aside all the old vendettas, all the pain they'd put each other through. Without it, though, their hold on each other would crumble and fade.
“Where in the world did you manage to find strawberries, Laurence?” Priya was full of excitement. T did his best to dig holes in the earth for the seeds to grow.
“We raided a supermarket out in Nevada. The food was long gone but the seeds hadn't been touched.”
Adelle herself was nearly finished with a tomato garden in the next plot over. She smiled at Priya and Dominic's conversation and the sound of T's baby coos.
“Auntie Adelle, Auntie Adelle, look what I found!”
T ran in her direction holding a large earthworm, only to trip and fall. He lay in the dirt, bawling.
Priya scooped him up. “I'll take him inside, he's due for a bath anyway.”
She disappeared into the house, leaving Adelle and Dominc to finish the planting. Adelle moved over to help Dominic with the strawberries.
“I have to leave, Addy.”
Adelle looked up. The years hadn't been kind to Dominic. His hair had gone completely gray and deep lines had formed under his eyes. Yet he was as strong and fit as a man half his age. She could personally attest to that.
“I know,” she said, and that was that.
She woke up at half past noon the day Dominic was set to leave, certain she had missed him. Instead she found him in the kitchen, feeding Topher his lunch.
“Come on Topher, I know it's not much, but Priya's a hell of a cook. Open up, we've only got three spoonfuls to go.”
Adelle watched them from the doorway, touched. He wasn't doing it for Topher, but for her.
Dominic looked up, a hint of embarrassment in his worn face.
“You were exhausted last night, I thought you could use a few extra hours of sleep. Priya was busy with T, so this job fell to me.”
Adelle stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Dominic, for once not caring who saw them.
“Come back to me,” she whispered.
“You know I will.”
He returned several times over the next few years. Sometimes he brought more refugees and sometimes he came alone. He always brought food and supplies, which the entire house was grateful for.
Once, he even brought Alpha with him. Adelle had heard Caroline's recount of her run-in with Alpha in Texas. She could scarcely believe that Alpha had reformed, but there he stood in front of her very eyes, not quite stable, but seemingly free of psychosis.
“I can't believe you brought that man with you,” she told Laurence later that evening.
“I can barely believe it myself, but he's actually handy to have around. If only I could get him to keep his mouth shut.”
Then there was the day that Dominic didn't come back at all. At least not all of him.
Adelle stared into his blank, expressionless face, hoping to find some semblance of the man she had knew. There was nothing left of Laurence Dominic, just an empty shell.
“We were in San Francisco, dodging bullets," Alpha prattled, "when Dom here stepped on a cellphone. Next thing, I know he's a dumbshow. I wanted to leave him right and there, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Okay, two of me wanted to leave him, but the majority ruled. I'm so sorry, Adelle.”
Alpha reached his hand across the table and tried to take her hand. Adelle yanked her hand away and rose from the table.
“Well, we'll feed him tonight and tomorrow I'll decide what to do with him. We need help in the garden, I'm sure he's capable of performing a few basic chores.”
Even Adelle was surprised by how cool and professional she sounded.
She woke up in the wee hours of the morning and dressed in haste. Dominic was asleep in the kitchen, laying on a makeshift cot. She had always been amused by Laurence's sleeping face. In slumber the lines and ages seemed to disappear, giving him an almost childlike appearance. Now he really was a child, an eternal one.
She laid her hands on the cot and leaned forward.
“Wake up, Dominic. It's time for your treatment.”
The man who had once been Laurence Dominic opened his eyes and smiled at her. “I enjoy my treatments.”
“Then come with me.”
She led him out to the farm, next to the strawberry plot they had both been so fond of.
“Do you remember this, Dominic? We planted this together, you and I. You brought back the seeds from Nevada and we made the strawberries grow.”
Dominic looked at her in confusion. “I try to be my best.”
Adelle took him in her arms. “Oh Laurence, you were the best." Tears ran unbidden down her cheeks. "And I loved you. Oh, how I loved you...”
Time was running out. Soon, the rest of the farm would wake up and they would be discovered.
Adelle pulled her gun out of her pocket -- Dominic's gun -- and pressed it to his temple.
She closed her eyes and squeezed the trigger.
“No, Adelle, no!”
Adelle was on her back before she could get a second thought in. Alpha was on top of her, pining her to the ground, the gun had been knocked several feet away, far beyond her reach.
“Let me go, you psychotic butcher! This is what Laurence would have wanted.”
“Come on, Adelle, give me a chance. I didn't bring him back to you so you could take him out into the garden and shoot him. Let me take him. I'm a genius....well, 7 of me are geniuses. I'll try to find a way to bring him back and if I can't, I'll let him go. But you -- Adelle, if you do this yourself, it will destroy you.”
Adelle sighed, admitting defeat. As much as she wanted to free Laurence from his suffering, she was no match for Alpha. The settlement's entire population combined couldn't take him down.
“Fine, but I want both of you gone within the hour. And don't you ever come back, especially not with that thing in tow.”
Alpha left a scant half an hour later, taking what was left of her former lover with him. She never looked back. It didn't matter what Alpha believed. Laurence Dominic was gone and she had a farm to run.
She looked at the bodies lined up in front of her. No one had seen the attack from Neuropolis coming, it had taken them all by surprise. Now three quarters of New Haven's population lay dead and she barely had enough people to bury them. She picked up a shovel and went to work.
T ran up to her, panting in the Arizona heat.
“Mom and I looked everywhere, we can't find Topher!”
“No, you won't find him, sweetheart. They've taken him away.”
The entire attack had been a diversion. Neuropolis didn't care about the settlement, they wanted Topher and his genius. For what purposes, she could only imagine.
The two most important men in her life, gone in less than a year. Adelle had grown to numb to feel the pain.
Dominic wasn't among Alpha's dolls and Adelle didn't care to ask. Some things were better left a mystery. She remembered Topher's words, “I'll fix what we did to their heads. You fix what we did to the rest of the world. Your job's *way* harder.”
She had to go on, keep fighting, otherwise Topher's sacrifice would be in vain. The world had woken up and was demanding to know what had been done to it. She hoped to rebuild civilization, the best that she could.
At the moment, saving the world involved learning how to walk in heels again. She had a senate subcommittee to attend and, apocalypse or not, everyone was expected to look their best.
A knock at the door pulled Adelle out of her internal reverie. She checked her gun, making sure it was loaded and popped the door open a crack with only her right foot sticking out into the hallway.
“I thought you had given up on those ridiculous shoes, Adelle,” said a familiar voice.
Her heart skipped a beat.
She opened the door to find a battered and rugged looking Laurence Dominic standing in front of her.
“Laurence,” she whispered, “is it really you?”
“Who else would it be, Addy? The world's clean now, I'm my old self again.”
Tears ran down both of their faces as he pulled her into his arms.
It wasn't exactly the happy ending she had dreamed of, but it would do.